A candidate made the short list for the open Durham City Council seat, but withdrew his name from consideration and threw his support to someone else during a special meeting Wednesday night at City Hall. And another candidate withdrew from the race, too.
The meeting was for supporters to speak to council on behalf of the seven finalists for the council seat vacated after Durham Mayor Steve Schewel was sworn in. But when it came to Carl Rist’s turn, a supporter read a statement from Rist in which he said that he was withdrawing and supporting Javiera Caballero. The People’s Alliance, which has an influential political action committee, endorsed Caballero on Monday night. Rist, a longtime leader in the People’s Alliance, withdrew from the running as a result.
Rist told The Herald-Sun after the meeting that the People’s Alliance is his political home, and it made sense to back the candidate his friends and colleagues backed. He said his candidacy was a bit of a long shot after the appointment was framed as potentially being filled by a Latino candidate. Rist is white.
Rist said the community is interested in having a more diverse representation and he didn’t want to be in the way of that.
“I feel the political winds are moving that direction,” he said. “I would have loved to have served, but I think this just wasn’t my time.”
Rist wasn’t the only one who withdrew from consideration on Wednesday night. Shelia Ann Huggins, who also ran in the general election, withdrew, too, according to Durham Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson and council member Charlie Reece. Huggins has not responded to requests for comment. She emailed the city clerk Thursday morning a one sentence message that she is “withdrawing as an applicant for the at-large vacancy.”
That brings the list of finalists down to five: Caballero, Sheila Arias Abonza, Pierce Freelon, Kaaren Haldeman and Pilar Rocha-Goldberg. They will all be interviewed by the council for 45 minutes each in another special meeting at Durham City Hall on Thursday, Jan. 11. Then the council will vote on which person to appoint on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Also this week, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People sent a letter to Schewel and council criticizing the appearance of wanting a Latino candidate to fill the open seat.
Durham City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton, who was endorsed by the Durham Committee during his campaign, said Wednesday the Committee’s letter “encapsulated the sentiment” by some people in the community.
“I don’t think the mayor is trying to tip the scale [to a Latino candidate],” Middleton said. Middleton has no doubt about the integrity of the selection process, he said.
Wednesday night, council chambers were full of supporters for the finalists. Schewel called for supporters to “keep it positive ... It’s not a night to criticize or tear down another candidate.”
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Each candidate was alloted 15 minutes for comments from their supporters, and went in alphabetical order. Sheila Arias Abonza, who goes by Sheila Arias, was up first.
Beth Messersmith, director of North Carolina MomsRising, has known Arias for four years and said she’s “constantly working to help families.” Five women spoke in support of Arias, tallking about Arias’ work with MomsRising and Durham Early Head Start.
Caballero’s supporters included Tom Miller of the People’s Alliance PAC, which endorsed her.
“This appointment is a rare and historic opportunity to bring the Hispanic and Latino community to share more fully in the benefits and responsibilities that attend life in Durham,” Miller said.
Caballero, Arias and Rocha-Goldberg are Latina. Schewel and Johnson encouraged the Latino community to apply.
Durham School of the Arts teacher Christopher Huggins talked about Caballero’s work in education. Caballero is PTA president of Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet Elementary School, a Durham public school. “Javiera is here to listen to all of us,” he said.
Steve Toler, who said he’s a proud member of the People’s Alliance, said that Rocha-Goldberg not getting a PAC endorsement is a good thing. He urged council to appoint Rocha-Goldberg, who leads El Centro Hispano.
“She’s been here a long time and she’s done a lot of good things. Not just in the Latino community, but also in the Latino community,” Toler said.
Freelon ran for mayor but lost in the primary. He declared his interest in Schewel’s former seat the day after the general election. Last week, he delivered 100 letters of support to the city council.
Artist and poet Chris Massenburg, known as Dasan Ahanu, talked about Freelon’s work with youth, in particular Blackspace, the downtown Durham digital makerspace that Freelon founded.
Kaaren Haldeman’s supporters included Joslin Simms, whose son was murdered. She said that Haldeman works to get guns off the streets and “walks the walk.” Haldeman is a community organizer who works with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“She’s there for us,” Simms said.
Former mayor of Creedmoor, Darryl Moss, called Haldeman a “warrior” who would be motivated by the challenge of the work in Durham.
Durham City Council will appoint one of the five people to finish Schewel’s at-large council term, which is up for election in 2019.