With voting in 2017 Durham government elections scant months away, the landscape became a bit jumbled this week.
For months, the contest for mayor was widely expected to be between two council members — Steve Schewel Cora Cole-McFadden. Cole-McFadden, who has served as mayor pro tem, surprised the council and others Monday night in announcing she would not run, but would seek re-election to her council seat.
McFadden has served on the council for 16 years and is a tireless booster of Durham. Schewel, in his third term on the council, has been engaged with the People’s Alliance for years and is the former owner and founder of The Independent Weekly.
Almost simultaneously with Cole-McFadden’s will-not-run announcement, another well-connected civic leader tossed his hat in the ring. Farad Ali, president and CEO of The Institute for Economic Development, is a former city council member. He has served as chairman of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, the Raleigh Durham International Airport Authority, Duke Regional Hospital Board of Trustees and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Other candidates may well surface before the filing period ends July 21. But with Ali and Schewel already in the race, it promises to be a spirited contest.
And that’s a good thing.
Durham is riding a wave of success that dates to the turn of the century — to be sure, rising from seeds sown in the late 2000s. Our population growth is the fourth highest in the state; our unemployment rate is relatively low; young entrepreneurs are flocking to the city, especially to our revitalizing downtown; new office complexes and shopping concentrations are sprouting throughout the city; the Research Triangle Park is resetting itself for new kinds of development; our food, arts, culture and sports scenes are the envy of many cities.
We also face well-known challenges. Prosperity is far from evenly spread — crowded aisles in Whole Foods and hard-to-get reservations at restaurants nationally acclaimed stand in contrast to food deserts in North East Central Durham and families struggling to stretch minimum-wage paychecks or SNAP benefits to month’s end.
We’ve made strides in helping homeless people, many of them facing pernicious substance-abuse or mental health problems, but too many still depend on temporary shelters or camp in woods or sleep in doorways.
Those issues — and a transportation network increasingly congested, the double-edged sword of gentrification, sensibly directing development so as neither to choke it nor let it overrun the very character that attracts it — all should give our candidates and the voters grist for a bracing campaign.