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Candidates for Durham offices take part in forum

At a "Meet the Candidates" Forum Tuesday night, 13 people running for mayor or city council seats answered questions on a myriad of local issues.

The meeting, which was sponsored by the Durham Democratic Party but open to people of all political affiliations, represented the only formal opportunity for the candidates to answer questions from the public before the primary election Oct. 11.

Mayor Bill Bell, who is running for his third term, and challenger Jackie Wagstaff were first to answer questions. Bell defended his tenure, citing the new American Tobacco Campus as an example of the importance he has placed on creating a business-friendly environment. He said Durham is moving in the right direction and that "these good things are not happening by accident," but rather as part of a concerted effort by his administration.

Wagstaff, a current member of the Durham school board, emphasized that the city needs to be more in touch with its youth. She outlined her plan for a "hip-hop agenda" that would include monthly forums with gang members under the age of 16 to gauge their perspectives. "Hip-hop is not rap; it is a form of being," she said.

The new jobs that have been created during Bell's term, she explained, are not good enough. She also said that new, better jobs should be created for Durham's poorest.

"We're not talking about Taco Bell, Burger King or McDonald's," she said.

The candidates for Durham City Council offered their positions as well. For Ward 1, incumbent representative Cora Cole-McFadden proclaimed Durham "one of the best cities in the country." She urged voters to stay the course, touting her commitment to her 2003 campaign promises.

Joe Williams, who is running for McFadden's seat, advocated reform. "We need to change," he said twice in his opening statement. "I'm here to give you that change." Williams reminded the audience that Durham police officers often leave to work for other municipalities at higher salaries.

One of the most vocal candidates was Victoria Brown-Peterson, also in contention for Cole-McFadden's seat. She called for new leadership among Durham's black voters, pointing to the high arrest rate among black males. "We are allowing our young people to drop out of school and drop into jail," she said, suggesting a new vocational-technical high school as a way to combat that reality.

For City Council in Ward 2, incumbent Howard Clement spoke of making downtown Durham a destination in its own right with a proposed outdoor theater. "Experience matters," he reminded voters. "While a new broom may sweep clean, it is us old brooms who know where the dirt is."

Among his opponents was John Holmes, a minister who explained that "the biggest problem is people who can't afford homes because their credit is jacked up." He suggested credit counseling to educate homeowners.

Also running in Ward 2 was Regina Stanley-King, who drew applause when she announced, "If I had to, I would decide for a tax increase" to pay for, among other things, affordable housing and salaries for city employees.

Ward 3 had five candidates vying for its council seat. Incumbent John Best, Jr. spoke of his "back-to-basics" approach to politics, including lower taxes and street resurfacing.

Shawn Cunningham, a senior at North Carolina Central University, proclaimed he would represent "not black Durham, not white Durham, not rich Durham, not poor Durham, but all of Durham".

Mike Woodward, Trinity '81 and an employee in Duke's Financial Services division, touted his 25 years of commitment to the Durham community. "Some leaders want to put [the city] in reverse, I just want to move it forward," he said.

Pam Karriker also took a positive approach in her remarks. "We need to look at city government from top to bottom, to find more money," she said.

Steven Matherly, another candidate for the Ward 3 seat, called for a real change of leadership. "I will be a problem on the council, because I don't like a lot of things going on," he predicted. He also indicated his strong opposition to a proposed bond referendum that would borrow money for the city's infrastructure development.

Conspicuous by his absence was mayoral candidate Vincent Brown. The News & Observer of Raleigh recently reported that Brown has a criminal record including a stint in jail and more than 45 guilty pleas.