Whenever a politician vies for a third term, we Americans naturally raise our eyebrows. Chalk it up to George Washington graciously stepping down after two terms, or to our instinctive mistrust of executive power, or to Wendell Wilkie's "Two Times is Enough for Any Man" campaign buttons, but something about serving thrice rubs us the wrong way.
Durham's Mayor William Bell has earned the right to violate this cardinal rule of politics. Prior to becoming mayor, Bell held a seat on the Durham County Board of Commissioners for 26 years. In 2001, Bell won the city government's top spot by a hair's breadth, squeaking past incumbent Republican Nick Tennyson. In his 2003 bid for re-election, however, Bell stormed past his opponents with a whopping 83 percent of the vote.
He has a record of distinguished leadership, raising the bar for the city and increasing the accountability of the City Council. He has overseen the revival of downtown Durham through innovative public-private partnerships, shepherding both the Durham Bulls ballpark and the American Tobacco Complex to completion.
His support of the Community-Wide Results Based Accountability Initiative will result in firm knowledge about just how effective the city government has been.
The Mayor's Youth Works Summer Program stands as evidence of his commitment to youth civic engagement and community participation. He has partnered with area businesses to find and fund job placements for hundreds of students, providing them invaluable summer work experience and marketable skills for the future.
Mayor Bell has been active on the Duke campus as well. He has reached out to students, faculty and administrators and supported the work of the Inter-Community Council, the "Into the City" Program and the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership Initiative.
In the upcoming election, Bell faces off against three candidates, including firebrand school board member Jackie Wagstaff. Her "too gangsta for government" campaign promises a "Hip Hop Cabinet" and programs for gang members designed to apply their street skills in productive ways. While Wagstaff demonstrates creativity, her policies smack of appeasement to the city's gangs.
Wagstaff had this to say to The News and Observer: "If they're out there selling drugs, then they already have some business skills. They understand budgets. They understand profit margins. We need to help them turn these business skills to the positive" (Aug. 26, 2005). These are skills that should be taught in schools; it is a mark of failure if our community turns to gangs to do so. Consider this: Wagstaff's own son has acquired such skills from two summers of work in the Mayor's Youth Works Summer Program.
But Wagstaff is focused on the right problems. While Mayor Bell deserves high marks for improving Durham's business climate and fostering economic growth, he will need to use his third term to take the fight to the city's gangs. Violent crime is up. Youth as young as nine and 10 years old are entering a life of crime.
If Bell is to make good on his 2003 campaign promises, he must tackle crime head-on and avoid simply relying on the engine of economic development. If the city is to achieve balanced and inclusive growth, the cancer of gang violence must be removed.
Through his achievements, Mayor Bell has weathered more than a few political storms and has won the praise of numerous city groups. As they have noticed, he has an eye for progress but fights to hold on to Durham's unique qualities. While helping to transition Durham from the "City of Tobacco" to the "City of Medicine," he has managed to convince cautious developers to renovate the city's historic buildings instead of simply constructing modern structures in their place.
Bell has outrageous ambitions for his city and two terms just isn't enough: Vote to re-elect Mayor Bill Bell in November.
Jimmy Soni is a Trinity junior. His column runs every Tuesday.
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