Candidates for Durham mayor and city council introduce themselves at the Durham CAN Delegates Assembly on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Left to right: John Rooks Jr., Farad Ali, Mark-Anthony Middleton, Shelia Ann Huggins, Vernetta Alston, DeDreana Freeman and Steve Schewel. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@heraldsun.com
Candidates for Durham mayor and city council introduce themselves at the Durham CAN Delegates Assembly on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Left to right: John Rooks Jr., Farad Ali, Mark-Anthony Middleton, Shelia Ann Huggins, Vernetta Alston, DeDreana Freeman and Steve Schewel. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Elections

Why Durham CAN assembly was the place to be on Thursday night

By Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

dvaughan@heraldsun.com

October 26, 2017 10:26 PM

UPDATED October 27, 2017 11:51 AM

DURHAM

Part of the political process in Durham is candidates going before Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN) and saying “yes” or “no” to the group’s agenda.

Durham CAN is a nonpartisan group that does not endorse candidates, but holds assemblies to ask candidates if they will support its goals.

Durham CAN held its delegates assembly Thursday night at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church. All eight candidates attended — Farad Ali and Steve Schewel for mayor, Cora Cole-McFadden and DeDreana Freeman for Ward 1, John Rooks Jr. and Mark-Anthony Middleton for Ward 2, and Vernetta Alston and Shelia Ann Huggins for Ward 3. The CAN assemblies can be lively, especially if a candidate says no to one of CAN’s agenda items. That didn’t happen Thursday night, with all eight candidates affirming CAN’s agenda of affordable housing and jobs.

Durham CAN is comprised of 30 groups and another 10 associate memberships who will join next year. Of the 30 groups, most are religious congregations. Just one neighborhood association is a member – Watts-Hillandale. Two of the candidates are part of churches that are in Durham CAN – Freeman, a member of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, and Middleton, who is pastor of Abundant Hope Christian Church. Candidates themselves leave CAN once they seek office. Middleton was previously part of CAN’s clergy caucus. Schewel, who is on the city council, is a member of Judea Reform Congregation, which is a CAN congregation. Ivan Parra, lead organizer of CAN, said that once you run for office, you leave the organization.

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This past year, CAN talked with more than 2,500 Durham residents about their dreams, aspirations and frustrations with the city, and developed an agenda out of those talks. What CAN is calling for to make Durham a more equitable city:

▪  Prevent displacement of economically disadvantaged residents from their homes.

▪  Prevent evictions.

▪  Invest in more land for affordable housing.

▪  Double summer jobs.

▪  Connect ex-offenders with jobs.

All eight candidates said that yes, they would support all of CAN’s agenda if elected to city council. Cole-McFadden is the incumbent in Ward 1. Schewel will retain his at-large council seat if he is not elected mayor. CAN also asked them if they would attend a two-hour retreat with CAN within 90 days of taking office to discuss CAN’s agenda. All eight said yes to that, too.

More than 600 people attended the CAN assembly from congregations including Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, El Buen Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Judea Reform Congregation, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Nehemiah Christian Center, Pilgrim United Church of Christ and Watts Street Baptist Church, as well as host church Mt. Level and others. Aside from congregations, other groups in CAN are Durham Community Land Trustees, Durham Early Head Start, N.C. Central University’s CAN chapter and Step Up Durham.

“This election, the majority of council is going to change, so we want the conversation around our agenda,” Parra said. “If we have a public committment, we have a relationship of accountability.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

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