Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden often mentions she’s a Durham native. She’s also the longest-serving member of the City Council, with 16 years in the Ward 1 seat.
This election she faces DeDreana Freeman, a member of the Durham Planning Commission who received more votes than her in the municipal primary.
Cole-McFadden, 72, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from N.C. Central University. She grew up in the West End in Brookstown, which is now mostly under the Durham Freeway.
“After that, our community was scattered all over Durham,” she said, “so that gave me a keen sensitivity that I wouldn’t make decisions to displace people.”
She’s a member of West Durham Baptist Church, though the church long ago left West Durham and is now located near NCCU.
Cole-McFadden’s father had a stroke when she was 10 and died when she was 15. It was devastating, she said. The community made sure her family had food. When she was 19, her mother died.
“I got married when I was a sophomore in college. My mom said, ‘You’re too young. You’ll get pregnant and not finish school.’ I did get married and pregnant, and I did finish school,” she said. “I had a village of people who helped me.”
I had a village of people who helped me.
Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, on finishing college while a new mother
Cole-McFadden retired from the City of Durham as equal opportunity/equity assurance director. She had started her career working for the Durham County Department of Social Services.
Cole-McFadden has been on the council since 2001, when Durham Mayor Bill Bell also took office. He did not run for re-election this year. Cole-McFadden announced her intention to run for mayor but then withdrew earlier this year, saying it was not in the best interest for her to run.
Efforts to interview Ward 1 candidate Freeman, 40, were unsuccessful.
Freeman grew up the oldest of six children in a single-parent home, she said at a candidates event. Freeman is a graduate of Rutgers University and is in the master’s of public administration program at NCCU. She is the special assistant to the president of the East Durham Children’s Initiative.
During a candidate forum a few weeks ago, Freeman said the difference between her and Cole-McFadden is in style.
“I will continue to work in my community because that’s just what I’m called to do,” Freeman said. She received 48 percent of the primary vote, with Cole-McFadden receiving 42 percent of the vote.
In her People’s Alliance questionnaire the organization’s political action commitee used to endorse her, Freeman said that “of all the issues confronting city government, the single issue that is most important to me is the lack of [racial] equity in our city government, which is played out in the affordable-housing conversation.”
“The displacement of renters through gentrification is one of the single most important issues for me, because I have watched my neighbors disappear from the community,” Freeman wrote. “If elected, I would work with community leaders to offer creative, preventative solutions that focus on the sustainability of housing.”
Cole-McFadden said youth are just as important as affordability in Durham. She is a longtime youth mentor.
“There is housing that’s affordable – maybe not downtown. It depends on where you want to live,” she said. Affordable housing is an issue to look at from a regional standpoint, she said. Cole-McFadden said she knows residents who moved to Durham because they could not find affordable housing in Raleigh or elsewhere.
She also thinks stabilizing gentrification of housing should be a city priority, especially for seniors. Cole-McFadden said the city is being intentional and deliberate about what it can do.
“I represent seniors and an ability to relate to people not just in my neighborhood, but all over Durham,” she said. “I’m glad that God has given me even more energy to serve.”
Cole-McFadden says the way to get traction on an idea from the City Council is to get four council members to support it, which is a majority, and ask the city manager if it fits the city’s strategic plan. Then, the council needs to “stop talking about things and work together in a collaborative way.”
Early voting continues through Nov. 4. Durham’s municipal election is on Tuesday, Nov. 7.