What’s your name? What do people call you?
Where are you from?
I grew up in Lynchburg, Va., and I moved to Durham in 1969 to attend Duke.
Where in Durham do you live?
Visiting Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Duke University
Former member and vice-chair, Durham Board of Education; current member, Durham City Council, elected in 2011, re-elected in 2015
People’s Alliance, Equality NC, IndyWeek, Triangle Labor Council, NC AFL-CIO
Any Hobbies and Interests you’d like to share?
Running, cycling, reading fiction, cooking
What’s one thing you want voters to know about you as a person?
I have lived in Durham for 48 years. I love our city and I have deep roots in many communities here. My goal is to make the city we love a city for all.
About Your Campaign
Is this your first time running?
It is my first time running for mayor, but I was elected to the school board in 2004 and to city council in 2011 and 2015.
Are you actively raising money?
If so, how much?
So far I have raised about $90,000
Who are your top three donors?
Marty Morris, a teaching colleague at Duke; Adam Abram, a businessman; and Marcia McNally, an urban planner.
Do you have a website and/or social media interfaces?
Yes. My website is stevefordurham.com.
My Facebook page is “Steve Schewel for Mayor of Durham.”
Are you running tv and/or radio ads?
Not TV, but I may run radio ads. I am also running or will soon be running print advertising and online advertising in these publications and blogs: IndyWeek, Clarion Content, Carolina Times, Spectacular Magazine, Durham Herald-Sun and others.
If so, what markets are you reaching out to?
See above for the list of publications and blogs. I will be reaching a diverse group of voters through these outlets, including minority voters through publications whose audiences consist mostly of those voters.
Who do you believe comprises your voter base?
My base is wide and diverse and encompasses all ages, races and ethnicities. In my council election in 2015, I received broad support across lines of race and ethnicity and ran far in the lead of all other candidates in the at-large race because of this broad support.
What is your proudest contribution to the Durham Community?
My proudest contribution to the Durham community is that I have been deeply involved here for many years, serving the community in elected office, on many civic boards (21 years on the Durham Tech Foundation board; founder of Crayons2Calculators which has given more than $1 million in free school supplies to Durham Public School teachers), as a youth soccer coach for 18 years, as the founder and publisher of the Independent (now IndyWeek) for 29 years, on the task force that merged the Durham city and county schools, as a professor at both Duke and NCCU. I’m very proud of those deep roots here.
The Role of Mayor
What is your understanding of the role/position of mayor?
The mayor has very little formal power. The most important job of the mayor, therefore, is to bring people together across divisions of opinion, of race, of class, of language to solve our common challenges together. The mayor can help identify our common challenges and bring people together to face those challenges and forge a collective vision for change.
Why are you running for mayor?
I want to see the city we love be a city for all. I want Durham to flourish for everyone. I want everyone to share in our newfound prosperity. And I want Durham to be a progressive beacon for the South and the nation.
On a similar note, Durham’s city government operates under the Council-Manager structure, making the mayor more or less an equal to his or her fellow council members. (We get that there are other powers inherent in the job.) Why did you decide to run for mayor, as opposed to a council position?
I have been on the council for six years, and I see that the mayor has the convening power and the bully pulpit that can help drive change. I have a lot of experience bringing people together to make change, and the mayor’s office is the place where that can best be accomplished.
What is the most important issue facing Durham?
There are several very important issues facing Durham, so I’ll pick one of the most important to write about here—the issue of policing and community trust.
There is a trust problem between the people of Durham and the police department, and it is critically important that this trust be restored. There is widespread belief in the community, supported by data, that many officers in the Durham Police Department (DPD) engage in racial profiling, especially when it comes to stops and searches and use of force.
We must apply a racial equity lens to policing. Durham unquestionably has a history of racial profiling by the police. To take one clear example, the police department commissioned a “veil of darkness” study by RTI which showed that white and black drivers were stopped at approximately equal ratios after sunset; but before sunset, black drivers were more than four times as likely to be stopped.
I will continue to work towards a police force that effectively fights violent crime while enforcing the laws utterly free from racial discrimination.
In order to apply a racial equity framework to this issue, the City has taken the following actions:
Collecting, monitoring and regularly reporting data about traffic stops and searches to the City council for public scrutiny;
Assertively recruiting African-American and Latino officers to serve on the Durham police force;
Hiring and promoting minority officers into the top ranks of our police force, including the job of Chief;
Training every new recruit in racial equity, de-escalation and procedural justice—and training every veteran officer in racial equity as well;
Requiring officers, by direction of the Chief of Police, to refer most drug and other minor infractions by people under 21 to the Misdemeanor Diversion Court, thus keeping them from getting a criminal record;
Requiring, by City Council direction, written consent to any consent search. I was a leading advocate of this policy which puts Durham in the national forefront of progressive policies on consent searches. Total searches of cars have fallen by 44%—which means hundreds of people, mostly African-American and Latino, are being spared jail and criminal records for minor violations, such as marijuana possession, that might result from a search.
I support the significant additional trust-building reforms instituted by new Chief C.J. Davis. These include: (1) the appointment of liaison officers to the Northeast Central Durham community, the LGBTQ+ community, and the Hispanic community—all of whom have been very well received; (2) racial equity training; (3) the expectation that drug possession and other small offenses by people under 21 will be referred to Durham’s Misdemeanor Diversion Court rather than criminalized; (4) the Chief’s decision to cease traffic checkpoints which have created significant problems for Durham’s immigrant population; (5) the Chief’s work with SONG to make sure that transgender youth are treated with respect by the DPD; (6) the patient, non-confrontational way in which the DPD now deals with public demonstrations.
Another important potential trust-building reform is the City’s deployment of body cameras which was supported in our recent resident survey by 94% of respondents. While the legislature has undermined the privacy and transparency features of our own local body camera ordinance, I believe that body cameras will improve behavior on both sides of the camera if—and only if—cameras are turned on at all appropriate times, without exception, and residents interacting with police know that the cameras are on.
In addition, our police department needs to adopt the best national practices for genuine community policing. I want a department where such policing is the routine, not the exception, where police are known and trusted in the communities they serve.
Finally, I want to emphasize that this trust problem is a two-way problem. That is, as our very recent survey of the police department shows, officers overwhelmingly feel that they do not have the support of the City Council and City management. If we are to successfully reform the culture of our police department to win the trust of the community, the council must simultaneously work to win the trust of police officers. No policing reforms we mandate will take hold in the field without the rank-and-file police officers feeling that they are valued for their dangerous and difficult work. We must hire the best officers, pay and train them well, hold them accountable to very high standards of behavior, and let them know that we value their work.
So we are making progress, but there is so much more to do. African-Americans whose cars are stopped still endure a much higher ratio of searches than whites. Several young black men have died at the hands of Durham police in recent years. In two of the cases, it is clear to me that these men—each depressed and calling out for help—did not have to die. We need more crisis intervention training, and more patience, in these situations so this will never happen again. Black Lives Matter.
What is the most important issue facing Downtown Durham?
The most important issue facing downtown Durham is the issue of gentrification in the near-downtown neighborhoods. I like a simple definition of gentrification that I once heard from Mel Norton: “Gentrification is the process by which higher income people capitalize on decades of disinvestment in the inner city by moving into neighborhoods historically occupied by lower income people and displacing them.”
The march of gentrification through Durham’s disinvested neighborhoods is the product of powerful market forces. The influx of young people who want to live near downtown’s jobs and restaurants is the force driving gentrification. They are its agents even as they are concerned about its results. At the same time, investors sensing opportunity are buying, rehabbing and flipping houses, thus displacing the original neighborhood residents.
These market forces are powerful, and we cannot defeat them. But we can positively affect change in the gentrifying neighborhoods if we are strategic, determined to exert the necessary political will, and willing to spend the necessary tax dollars.
An affordable housing strategy is at the heart of this work.
On City Council, I work on this issue every single day. Everyone in Durham deserves to have a safe, decent, warm, affordable home.
With limited resources and limitless need, we must focus on the most critical goals. My highest goals are to (1) end family homelessness within the next few years ; (2) continue the strong City support for the Housing Authority (DHA) so that DHA can redevelop its aging housing communities and ensure the success of its voucher program—which together support the housing of 12,000 or our most vulnerable; (3) use publicly owned land downtown to leverage affordable housing; (4) develop an effective strategy for inducing developers to contribute to our affordable housing; (5) help low-income homeowners affected by gentrification stay in their homes by providing effective financial support; (6) help fund the work of Habitat, DCLT, CASA and other non-profits; (7) help redevelop DHA’s downtown communities as mixed-income so that they are still home to the current DHA residents but no longer force those residents to live in isolated poverty.
Here is some of my work:
I have helped bring the Housing Authority and the council into close cooperation on financing the redevelopment of the Authority’s aging housing communities, funding the housing voucher program, and funding the $4 million repurchase of the 19-acre Fayette Place site.
This year, I advocated for doubling the “penny for housing” to two pennies—now producing $5.5 million annually. I have fought to fund Rapid Rehousing to quickly rehouse homeless families, to fund Habitat second mortgages and land purchases, and to adopt the Pro-Active Rental Inspection Program which has brought hundreds of properties into housing code compliance.
I have forcefully advocated for the use of City land downtown for affordable housing—especially the site adjacent to Durham Station.
I annually lead a team in the Homeless Point-In-Time Count to search out, count, and offer assistance to homeless residents of Durham.
I brought together leaders of Durham Public Schools, the State Employees Credit Union, and CASA to develop 24 units of below-market price rental housing for new teachers. This project is nearing the final stages of planning and financing. I work closely with our local housing non-profits to help them move their agendas forward and strengthen their capacity.
In the near future, the East Durham zoning review, the Alston Ave. design district work, and the future of Fayette Place are all implicated as we think about how to counter the ill effects of gentrification. In each of these cases, the City’s work is paving the way for investment in disinvested neighborhoods. This is a good thing. The neighborhoods and churches around Fayette Place, for example, certainly want and need investment.
But we must make sure it is the right kind of investment. In the case of the East Durham zoning review and the Alston Ave. design district, it is critical that we do not surrender the City’s leverage over developers by “giving away” base zoning. Developers should have to come in and request upzoning, and this can be combined with density bonuses to leverage affordable housing commitments. These commitments can significantly mitigate the effects of gentrification.
Fayette Place, a 19-acre site near an eventual light-rail station at the head of Fayetteville St., is a key site for redevelopment that will benefit the nearby neighborhoods and will not be gentrifying. I was deeply involved in shepherding the Housing Authority’s re-purchase of Fayette Place and the City’s $4 million financial support of this purchase. This site will be the subject of an extensive public process centered on the needs of the people in that area. It will certainly include affordable housing, and we must work to make sure that it also includes business opportunities for people of color that will employ neighborhood residents at good wages. This will take time and significant financial commitment, but Fayette Place should be a model of development that benefits the surrounding community. And it can be.
What is the most important issue facing Durham’s African American community? Minority population?
In addition to the two issues above, policing and affordable housing, the most important issue facing Durham’s African-American community is jobs. The City’s work to expand job creation and job quality should focus on inclusive innovation and support of the small local businesses that drive employment. Because of Durham’s historic pride in the businesses of Black Wall Street, Durham has a reputation as a hotbed of black business success. The facts are otherwise. Since the recession, Durham’s black business formation has badly lagged other cities in North Carolina. We need to change that by encouraging minority-owned business formation, sustainability and capitalization. Here’s how:
We must leverage our jobs incentives by offering them only to partners who will truly help us meet our ambitious minority contracting goals.
We must convene local banks to help create a self-regenerating loan fund to capitalize minority businesses and offer them technical assistance in finance, accounting and marketing. The City should consider back-stopping such a loan fund.
We must expand Durham’s lagging supply of minority sub-contractors by working with self-employed individuals in the trades to prepare them for small business ownership, and we must align these sub-contractors with the City’s procurement needs.
We must invest in a coordinated effort at technical assistance for minority businesses by Durham Tech, NCCU and other providers.
We must bring Duke University and the Research Triangle Park companies into a procurement strategy that targets minority firms and gets these firms prepared to win this corporate business.
We must ensure that our Office of Economic and Workforce Development is working closely with City contractors to get our minority firms sub-contracts.
If we do all this well, we will be supporting the small minority-owned businesses that can drive inclusive job creation and quality which is what Durham needs most.
What would you do to address each of these issues?
Please see my detailed answers above.
What is your vision of Durham after your first term as mayor—and beyond?
My vision of Durham is the vision of a prosperous, innovative, green and welcoming city that thrives on diversity and difference, that puts racial and economic justice at the top of our civic agenda, that defends the vulnerable among us, that cherishes robust, respectful debate on difficult questions, that embodies the belief that all residents get an opportunity to share in our newfound prosperity, that serves as a progressive beacon for the South and the nation.
What is your proudest contribution to the Durham community?
I answered this question above.
Which City Council member most closely shares your views?
I am a city council member now.
What sets you and your campaign apart from the other candidates running for mayor?
There are two things that set me apart from the other candidates running for mayor. First, I have far more experience in local government—and in making local government work for people—than any other candidate. Through this experience, I know how to get things done in the arenas of affordable housing, jobs and economic development, and police reform—and I have the record to show it. Second, I have by far the most comprehensive and detailed plans for moving Durham forward on every front from transportation to the tree canopy. I urge you to read about my record of accomplishment, my vision for Durham, and my specific plans on a myriad of issues at stevefordurham.com.
Keep it Dirty Durham. You’ve undoubtedly seen the phrase, whether printed on a t-shirt, written on restaurant sandwich boards, or typed as a hashtag chain under Instagram and Twitter posts. What do you believe “Dirty” means? Is this a phrase you support?
Yes, I support the description of Durham in this context as “Dirty.” “Keep it Dirty Durham” means that we need to maintain the diversity, the contentious democratic culture, the DIY spirit, the thriving grassroots artistic community, and the grittiness that makes Durham such a wonderful place to live. We don’t want to be a “clean” monoculture like some of our neighboring cities.
The confederate memorial in front of the old courthouse came down recently. There have been numerous opinions expressed about the methods, motivations, and pending punishment of those who were involved. We have two questions:
1. The General Assembly passed a law in 2015 that controls and/or prohibits the removal and relocation of such statues. For the sake of this first question, assume that a formal request to remove or relocate a state-owned statue was denied or otherwise refused. As mayor, you would largely be powerless to take any action within reach of the law—other than voicing sharp dissent. What would be your response? And would you be willing to subject Durham to legislative retribution (such as targeted funding cuts or the permanent tabling of bills that would benefit Durham) in order to make known the city’s opposition?
As I have written elsewhere, I abhor the General Assembly’s actions in this regard. I oppose them utterly and I have made this clear in public on several occasions. I understand that the legislature can—and often does—punish Durham and other cities, and we need to take this threat seriously and act strategically. In the case of the statues, however, we must not shirk our moral duty to speak out against the statues themselves and the current North Carolina law protecting them. Finally, here is how Durham must act: If there is a local decision made by Durham’s elected leaders to remove a statue, we must show up in massive numbers before the state Historical Commission to support this decision and demand approval of the statue’s removal.
2. If it were within your sole power to handle the outcomes of those individuals charged for taking down the statue, what would you do?
I can speak to this from experience. I have committed civil disobedience on several occasions starting with the peace movement in the early 1970’s up through the Moral Monday movement in 2015. Many years ago, I spent eight days in the Wake County Jail, convicted after a peaceful sit-in. I know the power of civil disobedience, the stark way that it confronts injustice. I know intimately its risks and consequences. And I know that anyone who civilly disobeys must be prepared to accept those consequences. In fact, it is entirely the knowledge of this risk and a ready willingness to accept it that gives civil disobedience its moral authority.
I expect the people who toppled the statue are prepared to accept the consequences—but they should certainly not have to face a felony charge. I trust that our district attorney will agree. A sentence to significant community service seems like the right one to me.
What is your perceived image of our city? (Meaning, does Durham have an identity that you believe in?)
Please see my answers above about my vision for our city and about keeping Durham “Dirty.”
Is there anything you would like to change about Durham’s social or cultural image?
Yes. My two sons went to Durham Public Schools from grades K-12, and I want our public schools to get the credit they deserve for giving thousands and thousands of children an excellent education. Realtors in this region, school-rating websites and others constantly and unjustifiably criticize the Durham Public Schools. Parents decide not to send their children to our public schools without even seriously checking them out. This is a tragedy for our community as approximately 30 percent of our children in Durham are in home-school, private schools, or charter schools. This is re-segregating our schools along the lines of race and class, and it is pulling critical family support resources out of our public schools. As Durham’s millennials grow up and start families, it is crucial for our community that they send their children to Durham Public Schools.