City of Durham
City of Durham

Durham County

Gentrification, grit and growth: Why 20 people want the Durham City Council seat

By Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

January 03, 2018 02:15 PM


What do 20 candidates for the open Durham City Council seat think of the city they want to serve?

From being inspired to apply because of the election of Donald Trump to wanting fare-free buses, those who hope to fill Mayor Steve Schewel’s former council seat represent a Bull City variety.

They submitted questionnaires on topics like housing, open space, policing and public services to the council members they’re hoping will appoint them to serve the remaining two years on the at-large seat. Here are highlights of their answers, and some ideas about the city.

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Ann-Drea Small: “Durham is an underdog comeback story of epic proportion. As a fourth-generation Durham resident, my family has seen this city thrive and wane and thrive again. It has taken a lot of smart people and hard work to get us to this point.”

Michael Levine: “The City Council has done an amazing job developing the city into what has to be considered one of the best up and coming cities in the Southeast. I feel as though Durham is primed for big things in the next few years and I want to be involved in growing the city to its fullest potential.”

Why they want the seat:

Sammy Banawan: “Donald Trump. Prior to last year, I had viewed progress as a passive event – it’ll happen given enough time. Now, I realize that hope is active and we have to make it happen. That’s why I am interested in serving on City Council.”

Javiera Caballero: “As this appointment process has unfolded much has been discussed about if the ethnicity of the person appointed should matter. I think it does matter. ... I speak Spanish, but English is my first language. I can relate to our younger Latinx residents because many of them will have to fight to keep their language and identity as they grow older, but also understand the struggles of our older immigrant residents.”

Dwyian N. Davis: “Although my background is not in politics, all the issues facing the city should concern every citizen and thus should be able to be presented in such a way that the average person could understand.”

Rebecca Reyes: “I chose to live in Durham because of its grit, its political history, its legacy and its contribution to the state of North Carolina. I chose to live in Durham because I wanted my child to go to public school, experience diversity, befriend schoolmates who were from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and to be taught by teachers who cared and loved public education.”

Carl Rist: “In over 25 years as a community activist and member of the People’s Alliance, I have worked hard to build solid, progressive leadership on all of Durham’s elected bodies.”


Ricardo Correa: “As a community member in the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood neighborhood I have seen how a great prosperity of business are arriving to the neighborhood, but I’m concerned about the gentrification that is taking place. ... A family of five suddenly saw their rent go from $450/month to $850/month without really knowing why. ... There are families that are the fabric of this community, and if affordable housing can’t be a reality, I worry that this city might end up washing [away] the very essence that makes it unique to others.”

Pierce Freelon: “Implement a tiny-house initiative, to create more pathways to home-ownership for more people. There are successful models, both locally in Greensboro and in Detroit. There are models for green tiny homes, and smart tiny homes which can be built vertically. We need to exercise every tool at our disposal to address this important issue.”

Fredrick A. Davis: “I think our neighborhoods in the inner city should have some protection against gentrification.”

Public safety and policing:

Nida Allam: “The city should allocate more resources toward public safety; including money toward decreasing recidivism and crime through increased access to opportunities, instead of consistent increases in police surveillance. Law enforcement officers must also be offered a more competitive salary in order to ensure consistency from highly trained officers.”

Nida Allam, applicant for the vacant Durham City Council seat.

Shelia Arias Abonza: “Latinos feel unsure about the police in general: they fear the police because they don’t see the average officers as allies during difficult times, a fear and alienation that can make a difficult situation quickly spiral out of control as troubled youth or runaways avoid the officers that are meant to protect and serve them. Sadly children of these parents are also growing up with the mentality of police officers not being someone you can ask for assistance or help; instead they are seen more like someone you need to run away from.”

Solomon Burnette: “There’s so much to be said, and so much to be done. All police officers risk their lives engaging the underworld. Some wrongfully risk our lives via misconduct, harassment, brutality and shooting. An investigative eye should be given to thank those who help us and sanction those who harm us.”

Javiera Caballero: “Property crime rates often increase in gentrifying communities because there is an increase in wealth inequity. My hope is that as we improve affordable housing, and help cultivate an economy where there are more high-quality jobs our property crime rates will decrease. I think ensuring our residents have access to mental health services, and other public health policies will help lower our violent crime rate.”

Pierce Freelon: “As a young black man with locs, I have been racially profiled by Durham police on more than one occasion. I often feel unsafe in situations when I’m pulled over, and I know many local residents can relate.”

Pierce Freelon, applicant for the vacant Durham City Council seat.
Casey Toth

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg: “Immigrants, documented or not, must cooperate with police, and the police must understand that the immigrants are reluctant to report crimes when they themselves are the victims or when they may be deported or reported to ICE. The people remain victims while the police are hampered in the ability to be effective.”

Development and land use:

Sammy Banawan: “We should focus on increasing urban density and supporting our existing communities by encouraging mixed-use developments. Redevelopment and rehabilitation rather than new development is also an environmentally friendly way to grow the city. And, as always, a focus on future transportation needs and plans is essential.”

Andrew George: “The City of Durham has undergone expansive changes in the six years that I have lived here. I think Durham is now at a point where it can be selective and extremely targeted in its development of the city moving forward.”

Shelia Ann Huggins: “I believe that we have to have a process that allows every community member to feel like they have a voice at the table, regardless of immigration status, income or residency status.”

Michael Levine: “There needs to be more land dedicated to places where citizens can gather; an excellent example of this is Central Park.”

Inclusion and race equity:

Nida Allam: “We have collectively seen a continuous lack of trust between residents color and the police force; especially from Black and Latinx residents. These residents are made to feel unwelcome and unsafe in their own communities. We must work to break these barriers by building bridges with the police force and marginalized communities.”

Javiera Caballero: “Offering interpretation at City Council meetings, translating agendas and minutes, and having the website professionally translated at first into Spanish and then into other high-use languages are clear first steps.”

Javiera Caballero, applicant for the vacant Durham City Council seat.

Ricardo Correa: “Inclusion is very important as more and more there are families from other countries that come to the city to look for opportunities, but the first obstacle is overcoming the feeling of being left out and discriminated.”

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg: “From my perspective as a Latina leader, we need to work better to understand the different segments of the Latino community and its unique needs so that resources may be directed more effectively.”

Ann-Drea Small: “I propose the introduction of “Creative Spaces,” designed as places where those on the margins of society can go to engage in art projects, meet others like themselves, and receive community support for their endeavors.”

Economic development:

Nicole Netzel: “Economic development in Durham is largely dependent on Durham’s ability to grow its tax base. This should be done by keeping old residents and ensuring they have stable housing, attracting new residents who will live and spend money in Durham, promoting business development and providing cultural experiences to residents and visitors.”

Carl Rist: “From my perspective, the single most important issue facing Durham and Durham’s city leaders is the growing gap between rich and poor.”

Open space, trails and environment:

Solomon Burnette: “Expanded sidewalks in northern and southern Durham stand out to me as a major infrastructure concern. As a regular pedestrian, I know that certain areas of the city have high car and pedestrian traffic but have minimal sidewalks. The city need remedy this immediately. Also, trash cans need be put in more places in the city in order to mitigate against litter.”

Fredrick A. Davis: “I think the city of Durham can do more to support being green by incorporating innovative designs in the redevelopment of recreation centers and spaces for community gardens.”

Karen Haldeman: “Urban and community gardening, edible schoolyards and other innovations in using open space to address other social issues would be a priority.”

Michael Levine: “With all the industry moving to the area, we need to ensure that our land, rivers, streams and lakes are not affected. As a chemist, I know what industrial pollution can do to a city.”

Humberto Mercado: “As an individual who from time to time uses the American Tobacco Trail to ride my bike and walk, it would be nice to expand and/or improve safety conditions on the open spaces and/or trails which Durham has. An expansion on sidewalks would also benefit residents who like to walk on a daily basis.”

Public infrastructure and city services:

Nida Allam: “Making the bus fare-free would truly make the bus transportation program accessible and beneficial for the city in the long run, especially as the new electric buses are put into service.”

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg: “A key issue for our community is transportation; getting to work or getting children to extracurricular activities is complicated, especially if you don’t have a car. Offering good public transportation will help with this issue.”

John Tarantino Jr.: “Due to language barriers with our new arrivals, I do often get the sense that there is a disconnect between the city service departments and people.”

Narrowing the list

Read the full questionnaire responses by the 20 applicants at:

There were 23 initial applicants, now down to 20. One was eliminated because he wasn’t registered and two others dropped out this week –Yesenia Polanco-Galdamez and Kyle Reece.

After its work session on Thursday, the City Council will hold a special meeting to vote on narrowing the list to three to seven candidates. Then at 7 p.m. Jan. 10, each of the short list candidates’ supporters will be able to address the council in a special meeting at City Hall. Then at 5 p.m. Jan. 11, the short list will be interviewed by the council in another special meeting.

One more special meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 16, when the mayor and council will appoint someone. The new council member will be sworn in during the regular council meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 16.


Who’s in the running:

  • Sheila Arias Abonza, owner of Jas Cleaning Services and a campaign associate of MomsRising.
  • Nida Allam, third vice chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party.
  • Sammy Banawan, a psychologist in private practice.
  • Solomon Burnette, a member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and former council candidate.
  • Javiera Caballero, a member of the Durham Open Spaces and Trails Commission.
  • Ricardo Correa, pastor of United Nations Worship Center/Centro de Alabanza Naciones Unidas and a member of the Durham Human Relations Commission.
  • Dwyian N. Davis, a Vietnam veteran and pastor who was an early participant in the desegregation of Durham Public Schools.
  • Fredrick A. Davis, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church, former Durham Public Schools school board member from 2006 to 2014, chair of board for West End Community Foundation.
  • Pierce Freelon, founder of Blackspace, lecturer and a former mayoral candidate.
  • Andrew George, Duke University graduate student.
  • Kaaren Haldeman, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America volunteer.
  • Shelia Ann Huggins, an attorney and former council candidate.
  • Michael Levine, a chemist who serves on his homeowners’ association board.
  • Humberto Mercado, an Easter Seals case manager who previously worked for the city in economic and workforce development.
  • Nicole Netzel, who works for Lutheran Services Carolinas’ refugees resettlement program.
  • Rebecca Reyes, a retired social worker who is on the Durham Recreation Advisory Commission.
  • Carl Rist, who works at Prosperity Now and has been active in the People’s Alliance.
  • Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, president and CEO of El Centro Hispano.
  • Ann-Drea Small, a fourth-generation Durhamite who is an IT consultant for UNICEF.
  • John Tarantino Jr., a frequent political candidate who sings satirical songs at government meetings during the public comment time.