Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Rev-elution endorses candidates for mayor and city council.

It’s endorsement time! It’s endorsement time!

I know, it’s probably true no one really cares about what I think. This is the work left for Political Action Committees like the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, People’s Alliance and the Friends of Durham to figure out. The newspapers often chime in, with Indy Week mostly embracing whatever the People’s Alliance decides and the Herald-Sun doing their best to make a decision among those left after the great shakedown. That would be Mark Schultz, Cliff Bellamy and Greg Childress.

They all do a great job of picking among the candidates. This year has been more difficult due to the number of highly qualified and gifted people running for office. No matter what happens, Durham gonna be alright. You catch that? I got Kendrick Lamar on my mind today.

So, here I go. I couple of thoughts before I start.

Unlike some of the other endorsement list, I thought long and hard regarding how each person, if selected, impacts the chemistry of the city council. As much as credentials and public policy views impact the management of city government, and it does, Durham has learned tough lessons from the past regarding what happens when you place a Muhammad Ali personality in the ring with Joe Frazier.

Forgive my boxing reference. I’m still processing the beat down McGregor received from Mayweather. Just like that fight, the wrong group of people on the council will create a stir that mirrors the rope a dope followed by a shoulder roll. I based my decisions on gut stuff that church folk call the Holy Spirit. In many cases I may be wrong, but dang it, it’s my freaking list.

Drum roll please.

Mayor of the cool city

This one was hard to call.  I came close to simply rolling the dice to see what the end would be, but then the clouds opened to reveal the sun. Not really, but that’s what we preachers do. It’s important to paint a picture.

Thus, this came down to things beyond those credentials. I’ll begin with who I left out among the final two and why.

I like Pierce Freelon. I love his energy and passion. What I didn’t like was his sales pitch. It went something like this – vote for me because the average age in Durham is 33. We need representation on the council that reflects the views of Millennials. We rule the world. Step back old folks.

Okay, it’s gentler than that, but Freelon’s pitch made me feel like the old horse sent out to the pasture after losing too many races. My study of African religion has taught me to honor the views of the elders. They bring insight and wisdom nurtured through the years. Getting old isn’t a curse. It’s to be honored and respected for helping us look back and learn lessons while keeping both eyes on the prize.

I didn’t like being told to step aside. With that said, there is something about Freelon’s energy that helped me see beyond this election. I simply believe Durham’s political structure would limit Freelaon. I want to see him serve beyond the restrictions of local government. His voice and leadership seems to be bigger than Durham. Not sure where that is, but I hope we will experience what that means.

I endorse Farad Ali as Mayor.

Why -because he’s too good not to participate in our government. I hear you. I hear you. What does that make Steve Schewel – chicken feed? Oh no. I selected Ali because Schewel will remain on the council if defeated. My desire for both candidates led me to go with the one who won’t serve if defeated.

There’s a second part to this decision. I’m not willing to trust the newly elected city council with the selection of Schewel’s replacement.  This came to me after reading threads regarding the time it took for People’s Alliance to complete their endorsement process. I hear it was long and grueling. I’m not prepared for the heat in the room if the city council is forced to make that decision.
Call me a wimp, but, in my mind, it’s the best of all worlds. It can be argued that Schewel deserves being elevated to mayor after years of faithful service. I dig it. I really get that, but what a team.

Every time I fly in and out of RDU I see Ali’s smiling mug on the walls. He’s there glaring at people entering our region like a super hero positioned to protect us from the forces of evil. Okay, I’m doing that preacher thing again, but you get the point. Ali has established regional juice. Some progressives may not like what that means, but he brings credibility to the city in ways that continues the work of Mayor Bill Bell.

Again, those progressive hate that. There’s nothing like a series of private/public partnership to irk the souls of those baptized in white privilege. Make it go away! I get that, but it’s why I love the balance between the two.

What I love most about Schewel is his vision for affordable housing. It’s insightful. It’s creative. It’s a work of genius. Yeah, those are big words that puff Schewel up like the magic dragon. He has the plan that can work, and if not for what we would forfeit without Ali, he is my dude.

I’m sure you have questions. See me after class.

Let’s move on to Ward 1

This is the classic old school, new school battle. In this corner, we have Cora Cole McFadden. She’s from Durham and a graduate of NCCU. She has served in city government and has served as Durham’s Mayor Pro Tem. In this corner, we have DeDrena Freeman. She’s an up and coming superstar having served on the Durham Planning Commission. She has served as a member of the North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Board. Sure you right.

This is a case of finding what makes me feel good. Like Halle Berry in “Monster Ball”, there are times when you have to go with what feels like chemistry. For me, it’s about muscle memory. What feels good is a person on the council who remembers what Durham looked like before the hipsters showed up with enough cash to elevate the cost of downtown housing. By memory I mean more than life in the city before Bill Bell and the years after urban removal.

Youth on the council is important, but, given the radical changes we face, we need a person on the council who can talk about how we got here, the mistake we made and what needs to be done to overcome the damage.

Call me old school. I endorse Cora Cole-McFadden

Then came Ward 2

This is the toughest decision to make. Can we pick all of them? Why not? Okay, I have to decide.

I endorse Mark Anthony Middleton for reasons beyond where he went to divinity school  (Duke pride) or the fact that he’s my brother in ministry (preach Middleton). This is about the substance and spirit of his work. This is about working with the masses during a time when people are downright nasty related to how they talk about and engage with men and women of the cloth.

It takes more than a Bible and a bunch of charisma to do the work of ministry. No other profession comes close to mimicking what it means to be a politician. If you don’t believe me spend some time at a church business meeting. Help me Jesus.

But, more than Middleton’s calling and practice of faith, this is about the hard work he’s doing in promoting justice, peace and understanding. That’s hard work given how new jack revolutionaries view grassroots mobilization. That’s a chat for a later day, but let me clearly state they can’t handle the truth.

Among the others, John Rooks is doing the darn thing. He is giving his time and money in support of residents in McDougald Terrace. His heart is in the right place. He deserves this, but it’s his work with law enforcement that shifted the scale in the direction of Middleton.

He organized monthly meetings, along with Delbert “Deej Kraze” Jarmon, to advance communication with local police. I attended the meetings early on, but felt they became more of a public relations campaign for the police department than an authentic space to discuss legitimate concerns with law enforcement. I began to sense sentiments that negate the voice of the Black Lives Matter movement. You know what that means. I ain’t got no time for that.

I see promise in Levon Barnes. I told him a setback is a setup for a comeback. Well, not in those words, but expect him to return with the fury of a resurrection.

Ward 3 was surprisingly easy for me

It came down to the battle of the legal minds. I respect the work of Don Moffitt; but the black women running this time pushed him to the side like grandmamma used to do when she gave me the hand.

Vernetta Alston is impressive. What disturbs me about Alston is that catch phrase – progressive. In Durham, it’s used like a weapon. It often implies a white agenda that negates the significance of black progressive ideology. Put another way, white people in Durham think they out-progressive black progressive. It’s a point that drives me over the edge.

When I hear Alston say progressive I think of views that reflect a labeling of progressive that needs to be balanced by black progressive views. When white progressive is construed as right progressive, black progressive views take a black seat in defining movements that move poor black people in the direction of progress.

It’s the reason I failed to endorse Moffitt. In many ways, Alston is Moffitt in black, queer embodiment. That’s a good thing, but, for me, it gets at the core issue of chemistry that advances causes beyond the People’s Alliances assumptions regarding a progressive agenda.

Shelia Huggins brings the balance that makes me feel good. Like Alston, she’s an attorney who has jumped into the fray of doing public service. She has the right stuff needed to process through all side of arguments placed on the table. She’s is engaged enough not to become the puppet candidate of a particular PAC. I see her as a mediator willing to do the right thing, not because of pre-assigned labels of what it means to be a Durham progressive, but because of the data placed before her by staff and the conversations coming from all sides of the position.

I did it!

I see this as a celebration of the great work done by past council members. Schewel and McFadden are the link to the past. Middleton and Huggins are the future of Durham.

With that said, thanks to all who ran. All of you rock. Some I didn’t mention here, but I got love for all of you.

Well, all but Sylvester Williams. I can’t give a shout out to a minister who opposes gay rights. Not on my watch.

To the rest of you, nothing but love for you and what you do for my city.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Selecting a mayor in Durham: The political kiss

Deciding among the candidates for Durham’s next Mayor is a tough task.

It reminds me of the time, long ago, when I found myself trapped in making a decision regarding who to date among sisters. Both were cute. Both had a crush on me, and both kissed me near the big oak tree in my parent’s front yard.

I was only 13.

Decisions, decisions. What do you do when you like most of the candidates?

To begin, I consider Farad Ali a friend. He’s the type of guy who easily fits within my inner circle. Yeah, we could drink a beer together, talk mess, and go to a basketball game (unless it’s UNC versus Duke. He did play for the Tar Heels and I have my Duke credentials) and double date at the Beyu. Yup, Ali is my Negro.

I’ve got mad respect for Pierce Freelon. I’ve been following his music and career ever since he performed at The CenterFest Arts Festival just before Dirty Sol, a group I was helping to promote. I didn’t care much for him performing with his shirt off, but that’s a case of undo shade. 

When I see Pierce, I think about King, my son. It’s difficult not supporting a young, black man with all that talent, passion and vision. Did I mention I love his parents?

I used to write for the Indy Week, the publication Steve Schewel founded in 1983. As a journalist, it’s hard not to back a man who introduced a progressive approach to local news. It doesn’t hurt that I witnessed Steve maneuver tense racial hostility when he was a member of the Durham Public School Board. That was back when protesters were sent to jail in the presence of children during meetings and Durham was called the “black sheep” of North Carolina.

There are others running. Traci Drinker, retired member of the Durham Police Department, is the type of friend I’d tell my deepest secrets. In fact, I think I have. Sylvester Williams, who returns after numerous rejections by voters, is a minister on record for opposing members of the LGBTIA community. He gets no love from me.

I don’t know Michael Johnson. I hear he’s a nice guy. I purchased shoes from Shea Ramirez former store near Guess Road. Now she does taxes and helps young people enter the modeling industry. Got to say that’s impressive work.

This is a lineup of friends and a few I do not know. Like those sisters who kissed me, it’s tough selecting when most candidates possess political cuteness.

So, what will it take to get my vote?

This election is about the future. Like a relay race, Mayor Bill Bell is passing the baton after generating massive economic growth. The downtown economic boom, combined with changes a few blocks away on Ninth Street, has drawn new residents with deep pockets and a desire to live near downtown.

The growth has come with consequences. Companies like State Employee’s Credit Union have caged the product, a term used to describe the control of supply and demand, in North East Central Durham, Old North Durham and the Watts-Hillandale community. People crave a home within walking distance of the buzz downtown.

I’m looking for a mayor who can facilitate a conversation related to offsetting massive housing cost. I’ve heard rhetoric, but no plan. I desire an analysis regarding what happened that ponders both benefits and shortcomings. I’m insensitive to the anti-business sentiment of groups who blame private/public partnerships. I don’t want to hear the city is screwed up because of the work of Bill Bell.

I hear talk about increased disparity proven by the construction of that monster building downtown with condos selling for more than $1 million. I’m fed up with attacks that fail to acknowledge the creation of jobs, more taxes to the city and county, more places to eat, hotels and shops with more options that impact tourism.

The growth comes with loads of bad news, but there is good stuff in the shadow of all those buildings. There are more locally owned businesses and places that attract people to Durham for more than a basketball game at the Cameron Indoor Stadium.

I don’t need to hear Durham is worse than before. After living downtown for more than 10 years, I can tell you that isn't true. Durham is more vibrant with places to hear live music. People can select from a bevy of multiple star restaurants with crime not being considered when you park your car at night.

Now that we’re here, who can lead this discussion? Who understands life on both sides of the tracks – the world of business incentives and economic development, juxtaposed against the world of Lord, help me pay these damn bills.

Who, among these wonderful candidates, is capable of navigating conflicting political agendas? Will Durham shift into anti-business mode before black business owners obtain an equitable piece of the pie? Will there be adequate conversations regarding the people being pushed out of their communities due to a plan to cage the market?

Who will I pick among these politically cute candidates?

At the end of the day, it’s not how cute one looks. It’s substance that matters the most.

Thank God I don’t have to kiss them.