In the home stretch of Durham’s primary races for mayor and City Council, a forum of a different variety drew most of the candidates to N.C. Central University.
There was a stage, but they weren’t on it. Instead, community members on stage and in the audience this week talked about what they think are Durham’s most pressing issues. And candidates got an earful.
Durhamites’ concerns about the city were read aloud and posted on Post-it Notes:
▪ “How do you plan to fight gentrification?”
▪ “Affordable housing. Affordable housing.”
▪ “What are your plans for re-entry individuals?”
▪ “What are your plans for homeless?”
▪ “Safety of Latinx immigrant community.”
▪ “Inclusion of the contribution of black people to progress in America.”
▪ “Rent and the cost of housing is increasing. What can we do about that?”
▪ “More healthy food around campus.”
▪ “What can we do about violence in the city that surrounds campus?”
Durham voters will narrow the field of candidates for mayor and three ward races to two each on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
In the auditorium seats of the H.M. Michaux, Jr. School of Education building at NCCU Tuesday night, candidates were scattered about, listening. Only listening.
Everything blacks have had in the downtown area has been reduced to a plaque.
Community activist Jackie Wagstaff, on downtown Durham gentrification.
Community activist Jackie Wagstaff, who has served on the council and the school board here, wore a John Rooks T-shirt. She’s supporting him in the Ward 2 race for a seat being vacated by Councilman Eddie Davis. Wagstaff said Rooks is not afraid to be in neighborhoods like McDougald Terrace and Liberty Street, listing multiple public housing communities.
Wagstaff said her biggest concern is Durham’s lack of affordable housing.
The Rev. Fred Davis, who previously served on the school board, is pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church in the West End. He also said affordable housing is a major issue, but that it needs to be about owning your home, not leasing it or living there through an affordable housing partnership.
Davis also said he’s more concerned about opportunities for meeting people’s needs outside of downtown.
Wagstaff was blunt with her description of downtown gentrification.
“Everything blacks have had in the downtown area has been reduced to a plaque,” she said, referring to the historic Black Wall Street sign on Parrish Street.
Anita Foust, a community advocate, said justice is the biggest issue in Durham.
“We are all under the yoke of white supremacy,” she said.
Eliazar Posada from El Centro Hispano wondered how many “Latinx folks own businesses downtown?” He said the city needs to maintain equity and equality while handling growth.
Durham resident Michael Wilson is worried about housing, but had a more direct request: better bus stops.
Wilson, who uses a motorized wheelchair, said that at some bus stops he’s literally sitting in the street instead of having a shelter to wait in. He said that while the city is fixing bus stop issues, they’re not moving fast enough.
“Take better care of us as seniors and disabled people,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he already voted in the Durham primary at the NCCU early voting location. He likes mayoral candidate Farad Ali’s platform best.
Nicki Rivers moved to Durham from New York City five years ago and wants to be able to buy a home here, which she referred to as the American dream. She thinks “regular people are being pushed out” and wants leadership who “push for regular working class folks.”
Candidates never had the microphone.
Early voting continues through Saturday. The top two vote-getters for mayor and three council wards move on to the municipal general election Nov. 7.