Durham City Council Ward 2 candidate John Rooks Jr. Submitted photo
Durham City Council Ward 2 candidate John Rooks Jr. Submitted photo

Elections

City Council candidate sorry after LGBTQ survey. People’s Alliance weighs in.

By Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

dvaughan@heraldsun.com

October 04, 2017 12:12 PM

UPDATED October 05, 2017 08:47 AM

DURHAM

A candidate for Durham City Council has apologized for his answers to an Equality NC survey, saying it was a mistake.

John Rooks Jr. is a candidate for the Ward 2 council seat and endorsed by the People’s Alliance PAC. He posted on his campaign website this week that the answers he submitted to an August Equality NC questionnaire were not his views and the leader he hoped to be for Durham. Equality NC is dedicated to securing equal rights and justice for LGBTQ North Carolinians.

Equality NC endorsed Ward 2 candidate LeVon Barnes.

Ben Graumann of Equality NC said Wednesday that he heard about Rooks’ statement through other people.

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In Rooks’ statement at votejohnrooks.com, he said that as a first-time political candidate, “I relied on the support of someone that I thought would be helpful with completing the Equality NC questionnaire. I was mistaken. The responses I submitted had been altered and submitted without my final review. These responses were irresponsible and inconsiderate and hurtful. They did not and do not reflect my views on the rights that members of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities deserve.”

Rooks also apologized: “I am truly sorry for my oversight and the hurt that I have caused. I take full responsibility for this. I need my Durham community to know that I am committed to the rights of all people, namely those who belong to protected classes. Durham is the unique city that I love because of our valued LGBTQ and immigrant communities, and this is the city that I love and want to serve.”

Graumann, director of communications for Equality NC, said he’s not sure how seriously Rooks took Equality NC’s endorsement if he didn’t take the time to read his responses before submitting them.

“I feel conflicted about it, because if it was him, the things that he said were very troublesome,” Graumann said.

Rooks also posted his original answers to the questionnaire and wrote that: “I am constantly evolving as a father, a husband, a man, and community organizer. While I am not perfect, I will always accept the challenge of learning from the mistakes that I make and I hope that you will allow me this opportunity.”

On Rooks’ questionnaire, his answers were not supportive of LGBTQ equality. Among the responses was: “The attempt by this organization to blanket its own discrimination toward religion, religious beliefs, and the rights of faith-based organizations and any citizen who opposes your agenda is apparent.”

Graumann said he hopes Rooks takes this moment to listen to LGBTQ people to better represent them in Durham.

“I do want to say we completely stand behind LeVon Barnes as a candidate. If John Rooks wants to take necessary steps to retract [his questionnaire answers] and be an LGBTQ ally, we welcome that, but still think LeVon Barnes is a better LGBTQ advocate in Durham,” Graumann said.

People’s Alliance posted a statement Wednesday that their PAC will continue to support Rooks and keep their endorsement of his candidacy.

“In recent days, the PAC has learned that John’s responses to Equality NC’s questionnaire were inconsistent with his responses to PA PAC’s questionnaire as it relates to the rights of members of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities. After many hours of meetings – both with John by himself and with John and stakeholder members of the directly affected community – PA PAC continues to support John Rooks for the Ward 2 City Council seat,” People’s Alliance stated. PA also said that Rooks told them he enlisted a friend to help him fill out the Equality NC questionnair and submitted it without reviewing it.

PA PAC also wrote: “John has assured us again that his response in the PA PAC questionnaire accurately reflect his positions – that he supports equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community, that he will support legislation at every level to combat discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, and that Durham should be a sanctuary for everyone.”

The PAC went on to say they were impressed by the straightforward and open manner of Rooks’ response to “this unhappy problem.”

Equality NC also endorsed Pierce Freelon and Steve Schewel for mayor, DeDreana Freeman for Ward 1 and Vernetta Alston for Ward 3. Graumann said they’ll revise the voter guide after the Oct. 10 primary.

Rooks told The Herald-Sun Tuesday night that he posted his apology statement because “it just needed to be addressed” and that everything he wanted to say is in his statement.

“It’s just a mistake that needs to be addressed,” Rooks said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan