Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Bill Bell leads City Council in alluding discussion regarding race
Mayor Bill Bell should teach a class on how to lead when the potential for division lurks. Bell handled the vote to replace Mike Woodard on the City Council with class. I hope members of the Durham Board of County Commissioners are taking notes.
The remaining members of the City Council selected Don Moffitt to serve out Mike Woodard’s term which ends in December. Moffitt, the former chairman of the Durham Planning Commission, won in a 3-2 vote over Anita Daniels. Eugene Brown, Diane Catotti and Steve Schewell, the three white council members, voted for Moffitt. Bell and Cora Cole-McFadden, the two black members on the council present at the meeting, voted for Daniels.
Absent was Councilman Howard Clement. Clement’s health has kept him away from meetings over the past year. If present, the vote could have been split based on race. A split vote would have made it difficult for the council to declare a winner. Clement’s absence helped Bell slay the elephant in the room.
Bell quickly moved for a second vote to make Moffitt’s appointment unanimous. End of conversation. Controversy deflected. No headlines involving division among members of the City Council.
No one was shocked by the maneuver. Bell prepared members of the council by informing them he would call for a unanimous vote early in the process. Pressing the importance of a united decision is further evidence of how Bell understands the importance of keeping race out of Durham politics.
The selection of Moffitt was a tough call. Moffitt’s appointment to the council maintains the white majority, but most agree that Mike Woodward transcended race. The allegiance between Brown, Catotti, Schewell and Moffitt could be perceived as a problem among those concerned about the affairs of black people. Given Clement’s inability to attend meetings, the council is left with two blacks they can depend on to fight their agenda.
Bell’s swift move to declare a unanimous winner reflects a radical difference in the management of city government versus the county. The potential for a 4-2 advantage would be big news if this was county government. It’s not news today due to how Bell and the members of the council have worked to place the needs of the city above racial politics.
Bell refused to elaborate on his reason for backing Daniels. Cole-McFadden talked about the need for another woman on the council. She didn’t mention race. “It’s important that we consider the population of women who live in Durham,” she says.
No one on the City Council mentioned race as a factor in appointing Moffitt over Daniels. The absence of race talk is the result of the hard work to place policy and procedure above the type of race trap that has hindered the Durham Board of County Commissioners. Add it to Bell’s legacy as an advocate for unity when the norm is to fight old battles.
How soon we forget that it was Bell who championed the cause to merge the former Durham and County school systems. Bell, then chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, endured criticism from both whites and blacks, yet stood firm in ending a long history of separate and unequal education systems. Some may contend that the merger began the demise of Durham’s public education. Others submit the merger helped mend race relations in Durham.
Bell insight on the vote to replace Woodward is another classic example of his keen sense of what matters most in Durham. As passionate as many are about race matters, Bell keeps the politics on the backburner so that the council may focus on what matters most. A simple unanimous vote made it clear that this council refused to get trapped into making a decision that would pit black people against whites, and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People against the People’s Alliance.
The council silenced the critics. No games will be played with the City Council. It’s time to move on and get back to the business at hand. Moffitt will serve well. Daniels would have done the same. Both options were good for Durham. It’s a gift to the city when we’re presented with two highly credential options.
Bell and the City Council have raised the bar on how to function above the politics of race. All minds are clear. Everyone agrees. There is no room for contention.
Way to go Mayor Bell. Does everyone agree?