i decided not to endorse a candidate in the Durham City Council Ward 3 municipal election. That changed when the battle of the Williams became weaponized by a corrupt system.
I know. Those are strong words that can easily be interrupted to reflect my own bias. I’ll own that with a caveat that I considered what’s best for the city of Durham. Both candidates bring strengths important in balancing local government. I planned to wait until after the primary, given Ward 3 isn’t on the ballot, to ponder my decision.
A.J. Williams is a 34-year-old Durham native. His deep ties to Durham reflect the interest of people who feel abandoned by people who move to Durham without a real appreciation of Durham’s culture and experiences. A.J.’s involvement in Durham Beyond Policing, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), BYP100 (Black Youth Project 100) Durham Chapter and as a participant member of Durham’s Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee qualifies him as a strong voice of the under 40 crowd.
Leonardo brings a strong resume as a former educator. The former Durham Teacher of the Year is also a former Senior District Administrator. His qualifications firmly establish him as a prime candidate for school board, positioning him to address issues related to parks & recreation and youth service delivery. He’s also owns, with his wife, Zweli’s Kitchen, the only full-service Zimbabwean restaurant in the United States. As a business owner, he understands the struggles of remaining in business during Covid-19.
It’s easy to decide based purely on ideological differences. Will it be the young candidate in support of defunding police, or the former educator and business owner with a more moderate platform?
I thought I needed more time.
That changed when the Durham Association of Educators decided to deny one of their own. Their support of A.J. forces a critical gaze of the endorsement process. The progressives in Durham’s endorsement rooms are engaged in the type of game playing used to attack the old school Democratic Party machine. They control the flow of financing. They control who votes and how they vote. Durham’s progressive political machine functions like an organized crime unit that shames the often-criticized Democratic Party.
It matters when people asking questions during People Alliance’s candidate interviews are the same people interviewing for the Durham Association of Educators. The lack of transparency matters. It matters that people who don’t live in Durham are allowed to cast votes. It matters those endorsements for ward seats fail to consider the concerns of the people living in those wards.
I can’t help but rewind the concerns of Bernie supporters after Hilary Clinton won the 2016 Democratic Party nomination for President. The witness of campaign financing and collusion tainted the nomination. People refused to vote, paving the way for Trump to win the election. Where are the naysayers who rallied behind Bernie because the field was tainted by the influence of money and power?
My nod goes to Leonardo because the system is polluted. My challenge to Durham voters is to reclaim the integrity of local democracy. Our local system has allowed council members to select people to replace former members. Our system ruptures the power of Black and Brown impoverished residents by allowing all voters to select their representation. Our system is tainted by an imbalance of campaign financing. Our elections are decided by the decisions of a few at the expense of the needs of the masses.
Sadly, A.J. is the beneficiary of that system. If being progressive supports the witness of the most vulnerable among us, Durham’s endorsement system must be challenged. The issue isn’t with the candidates chosen, it’s an endorsement process that uses power and money to control local politics.
Leonardo for the win because true democracy matters.