Candidate's Note: Ali is intense, honest and gentle with a presence of strength and confidence. Standing over six feet tall with the build of a defensive tackle, he smiles as he talks about his impeccable passion for Durham and shares his vision for "One Durham."
What’s your name?
What do people call you?
Where are you from?
Born in Brooklyn, New York
Where in Durham do you live?
President/Chief Executive Officer
The Institute (The North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development)
Elected to Durham City Council
Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People
Friends of Durham
Carl W. Kenney II of the Rev-elution blog
North Carolina Sheriff Police Alliance
Durham Regional Association of Realtors
Triangle Apartment Association
Any Hobbies and Interests you’d like to share?
I like traveling with my family and creating memorable experiences.
What’s one thing you want voters to know about you as a person?
I am a big fan of Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela.
About Your Campaign
Is this your first time running?
No, I was elected to serve on City Council (2007-2011).
Are you actively raising money?
If so, how much?
Who are your top three donors?
Do you have a website and/or social media interfaces?
Are you running TV and/or radio ads?
If so, what markets are you reaching out to?
Who do you believe comprises your voter base?
My voter base, my constituency consist of a broad base of Democrats, Independents, Republicans, seniors, single residents, married residents—young, old, rich, poor, white, black, brown, gay, straight—a constituency that is made up of many diverse parts and stakeholders that represent the whole–One Durham.
What is your proudest contribution to the Durham Community?
One of my proudest contributions to the Durham Community has been my work to preserve the legacy of Black Wall Street on Parrish Street. My organization, The NC Institute of Minority Economic Development, is the proud owner of the Historic National Landmark of the Black Wall Street and I am privileged to sit in the office of black business pioneers.
The history of Durham’s Black Wall Street now designated with six historic markers, honors the pioneers and legacy of Black enterprise at a time where Jim Crow laws enforced segregation and limited the opportunities of African Americans. Black Wall Street entrepreneurs John Merrick and Charles Spaulding propelled an era of significant black-owned enterprises anchored by the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Mechanics and Farmers Bank as well as business, professional practices and services. The Hayti District, also flourished as a major residential and business center for black life and the Heritage Center downtown have always been close to my heart—the story of Durham is deeply tied to the African American community, black enterprise and Parrish Street and Hayti are critical part of our city’s black cultural heritage. Decades ago of black enterprise, this area drew interest from civil rights leaders and prominent African Americans including Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, each of whom made appearances in Durham.
The organization I lead, the NC Institute of Minority Economic Development, owns and operates from this building today…carrying on the legacy of black entrepreneurship. It is my hope, that working together, we will continue to see revitalization efforts and residents will prosper in the neighborhoods, work life and own businesses.
The Role of Mayor
What is your understanding of the role/position of mayor?
While in many communities across the country one of the most important jobs of the mayor is making sure potholes are filled, garbage is collected and the snow is cleared—for Durham, I believe the most important job of the Mayor today is to serve as the Ambassador of Economic Transformation and Engagement. Despite the attractiveness and revitalization of the renaissance of downtown, the new businesses and job opportunities—and beyond redefining our past success as a tobacco and textile industry, as well as the accolades of our great universities and Research Triangle Park—we are reframing Durham as a City of Innovation. There is much more economic development and engagement of the community that must take place if we are to achieve unity and prosperity for all. The Mayor must be that vibrant voice and face for marketing the best, which Durham has to offer with the same heart and enthusiasm in addressing the inequities of race and class. This mayor must walk in neighborhoods in the north, south, east and west; eat lunch in a diners on Fayetteville Street and embraces the diversity that exist in all of our neighborhoods. This Mayor must serve in furthering the sustainability of the City and continue to embrace the leadership and expertise of the business community with the Durham residents. The Mayor must be the voice and spread the vision of good will to attract new business and retain existing ones; while engaging and lifting the community in efforts to build a stronger future for the next generation.
As Mayor, I will be the connection and bond throughout all communities and neighborhoods, whether you are black, white, straight, gay, rich or poor, whether you are a garbage collector, teacher, or executive. We have experienced a renaissance in our city that has given birth and vitality in downtown, which has transformed our city. It is time to ensure that the very Durham resident can share the wealth and prosperity of our new renaissance.
Why are you running for mayor?
I am running for Mayor because I love Durham and believe in Durham. Every personal and professional experience has been the springboard in preparing me for service. I run for Mayor to lend my talent, knowledge and leadership to work to attain greater action, unity and prosperity for the community that I love so much.
Since completing college, I have served the Durham community as a leader, visionary, collaborator and innovator. I come to the people of Durham humbled and ready to serve because my life’s work in public service, business, not for profit and community organizations. I am ready to bring the people of our great City together—to listen, to act and to achieve meaningful results. I was educated in the public schools and excelled academically and in athletics. I also learned discipline and integrity and how to respectfully handle varying viewpoints. The skills I acquired from attending business school at Campbell, UNC and Dartmouth strengthened my foundation and contributed to my success in the business world. I have over 25 years in the financial industry, generated over $1 billion of economic opportunity within the Durham community and statewide and served as a leader in the White House African American Leadership in Action Conference advising White House staff. I was elected to City Council and served four years. I am inspired and believe that I possess the understanding, leadership experience and heart to build a more inclusive Durham—I am the “change we seek.”
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 decided to run for mayor, as opposed to a council position, because I am prepared to lead and address the critical issues of Durham. The Mayor of Durham works closely with City Manager to address the major issues facing the community, as well as, in collaboration with the Council. I differ with you on the comparable role of Mayor and city council members—there is a great distinction in the role and relationship that the Mayor has in working with the City Manager. As such, the Mayor’s leadership and relationship built with the Manager will have a great impact on the direction of policy and programs, ordinances and regulations. Additionally, the Mayor of Durham represents the city in the state, the region and the nation.
What is the most important issue facing Durham?
Poverty & Economic Development
The highest concentration of poverty in the City is the section of North-East Central Durham (NECD)—home to about 3,466 people. It has a 61.4 percent poverty rate, with annual incomes there averaging $10,005 per person. It is time to make Poverty a Priority and to complete the work started by Mayor Bell and bring a new renaissance to the people in areas that are in the greatest need.
The Triangle is luring nearly 80 new residents a day with strong job growth and a high quality of life. Growth and how we prepare for growth requires encompassing other critical elements for a promising community—transportation, housing, schools, and neighborhoods. With the new vibrancy of downtown Durham, is in demand. We are now seen as an icon of innovation, with great ventures that seek to grow entrepreneurships, buildings designed to stimulate creativity in the workplace—generating out of the box ideas for start-ups and entrepreneurs and successful launches and business home to high tech companies. As the City uses incentives, opportunities for training and employment must reach all corners of the City. We must be inclusive, diverse and intentional to lift people out of poverty.
The dynamic success of economic development the City has experienced must spur economic development to parallel that success in underserved and communities with high poverty rates is a major priority. It begins with expanding the networks of communication between the City, business and residents to collectively develop the policies to promote the long-term economic growth and investment. All of Durham residents need to participate in prosperity. I would begin to focus on ways to:
- Offer training and opportunities to prepare our workforce to meet the job needs of industry recruited into Durham
- Provide resources to launch new businesses and entrepreneurs and include opportunities engagement in start-ups for residents that are living in low wealth communities
- Seek grant opportunities like the Bloomberg Innovation Team to fund research to tackle urban issues like poverty
- Focus on minority-owned businesses that currently receive a disparate share of the overall business activity in the city, which is 65 percent African-American
What is the most important issue facing Downtown Durham?
We all have witnessed the tremendous explosion of growth in our City’s downtown over the past five years, with a burst of commercial developments, residential successes, a new center of innovation generating a hub of entrepreneurial development -new start ups and new employment opportunities as companies vie to make Durham their corporate base. While such success have made Durham the recipient of numerous national accolades-and brought a new vitality to the community- particularly downtown--the opportunity and achievements have not been equally shared by all sectors of Durham citizenry.
According to the Enterprise Foundation, for every 100 very low-income renter households, there are only 79 rental units affordable to them. The majority of these housing cost-burdened households are renters. For extremely low households (earning less than 30% of AMI)—for every 100 households earning <30% AMI, there are only 38 rental units affordable to them. On any given night, approximately 750 Durham residents are homeless.
What is sad, is that I don’t need a report to tell me this, I know it because I see it every day as I work throughout the community, walk through East Durham and speak at neighborhood and organization meetings that tell me of the dire situation. Exasperating the issue is the contrast of rising rents in the central business district—making neighborhoods that once were affordable no longer affordable an option.
Collaboration with the City, Housing Authority and number of organizations that are active in seeking solutions and we must continue to look at creative and equitable options to this issue. Combining use of tax incentives—City’s penny tax etc. are all proactive strategies—I believe the issue goes beyond supply and demand to choice to the type of community we choose to be.
A greater opportunity exists for leadership to assure a well-planned city that allows for balanced and equitable investment. I firmly believe that growth and opportunities for investment need to occur beyond the corridors of downtown development without taking neighborhoods that have been neglected in recent years and resulting in gentrification.
We need to continue to embrace builders and developer and organizations that are economic development engines. Such goals need to be reflected in the City Strategic Planning documents. Planning and Zoning need and the City’s recent policy to invest in affordable housing on City owned land and near transit stations—needs to fully be committed and not turned into hands of developers that are more prone to look at the private good as opposed to the public good.
Again, the leadership of the City must provide the balance and address the needs of those most vulnerable. I am committed to a “ONE DURHAM,” so everyone has the opportunity to prosper.
What is the most important issue facing Durham’s African American community? Minority population?
Equity/inclusiveness: Durham is recognized for its diversity and is a great place to live, and why I am so proud to be running for Mayor. I agree that the “City of DURHAM has seen great momentum over the past five years, with a burst of commercial developments, residential successes, a new center of innovation generating a hub of entrepreneurial development -new start ups and new employment opportunities as companies vie to make Durham their corporate base. While such success have made Durham the recipient of numerous national accolades-and brought a new vitality to the community- particularly downtown—the opportunity and achievements have not been equally shared by all sectors of Durham citizenry.
First we must close the gaps. We live in a community where 46% of the population is white, and 37% African American, 13% Hispanic—yet the data clearly shows on all fronts that there is a great disparity in the economic and academic success of minority populations in comparison to the mainstream. Discrimination in housing-Homeownership: 43.3% for African Americans compared to 65.0% or above for whites. Poor education and the impact on Educational attainment: –earning a bachelor -30% for African Americans, 17.8% for Hispanics compared to 63.5% for whites. Median household incomes for African Americans: $34,766 and Latinos of $38,750 compared to $62,698 level maintained by whites. Durham’s poverty rate for children age 0-8 residing in a home where the head of household is at or below the poverty level is 37% for African American and 36% for Hispanics yet 8% for white children. Yes, these are today’s realities and if we are to uphold our principles and uphold the distinction of a city of social justice—we must move forward as “One Durham” and mend these disparities together.
What would you do to address each of these issues? (Feel free to answer alongside the above questions.)
Included in the responses above.
What is your vision of Durham after your first term as mayor—and beyond?
What is your proudest contribution to the Durham community?
See above response.
Which City Council member most closely shares your views?
The City Council member that most closely shares my views is Cora Cole McFadden, Mark Anthony Middleton and Sheila Huggins.
What sets you and your campaign apart from the other candidates running for mayor?
What sets me apart from the other candidates running for mayor is I have the knowledge, experience and deep roots in the fabric of various community and business interests in Durham.
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 hash tag chain under Instagram and Twitter posts. What do you believe “Dirty” means? Is this a phrase you support?
I believe the intent of the tag line was to preserve some of the dynamic spirit of Durham, as we experience a new renaissance and prosperity that “lest we forget” our past.
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?
I would look to the voice of the people and remove the statues. To do so, I would look to hand a written and approved action (resolution) establishing the will to move forward with an action that is contrary to the law. While I am not an advocate of civil disobedience, if all methods and proposals for the removal of the Confederate statues were denied by the legislature—then in consult with City and County leaders and the solid support of the people I would risk being sued.
2. 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?
Again, this is a very serious step, but in cases where the people have attempted resolve on matters of such sensitivity as this-rules may be broken to achieve the justice that has not been made possible due to political party division. I would not take this action lightly without the full support of the Council, Manager and people as well as County government.
If it were within your sole power to handle the outcomes of those individuals charged for taking down the statue, what would you do?
While I see both sides from the Sheriff’s perspective and the District Attorney, I would take the action to charge only those that were directly involved in taking down the statue—destruction of government property—a misdemeanor.
What is your perceived image of our city? (Meaning, does Durham have an identity that you believe in?)
Yes, to me my image of Durham is real and not perceived. I see Durham as the City of Diversity.
Is there anything you would like to change about Durham’s social or cultural image?
I believe the majority of negative images of Durham are generated from external-sources. Since the major renaissance of downtown greater media attention has focused on the growth and assets of a vibrant, business centric community. I would like to see even greater focus and investment in revitalizing historic Hyati, NCCU and Black Wall Street—so these communities could realize more businesses and profitability.
The change we call for in “One Durham” propels a new movement and inclusiveness and equity and opportunity for all citizens to prosper. That means being a City of people that work, a city of people that are diverse, a city of people that inspire and innovate. A city driven by people power--that will thrive with investments in job training, neighborhoods, youth, families, schools, housing, economic development, Black Wall Street, and balancing opportunities and strengthening the quality of life for all.