Durham mayoral candidate Steven Williams held an informal town hall meeting with approximately 20 students Monday night.
Williams, who is a registered Republican, was invited to campus by the Duke College Republicans. During his remarks, Williams was often critical of incumbent Mayor Bill Bell, who he will face in the Nov. 3 general election. One of his sharpest critiques of Bell came when Williams was asked about the mayor’s handling of the Duke lacrosse case. Williams said Bell failed to keep the city united as false rape allegations were leveled against three members of the men’s team in March 2006.
“When you are in a position where you’re an introvert, and you are in a position where you are supposed to lead people, it’s not going to work,” Williams said. “[Bell] could have handled the situation much better. The issues in court, they can handle themselves, but in terms of the institutions, his job was to bring everyone together, and he didn’t do that.”
Williams’s criticism of Bell resonated with many in the room who felt the mayor has not always reached out to the Duke community.
“The fact that [Williams] is here so early in the campaign, whereas Bill Bell has not even responded to the same invitation we gave to Steven Williams shows that he is at least interested in getting students involved,” said junior Justin Robinette, chair of the Duke College Republicans. “The first step to getting us to volunteer out in the community is to come and ask us.”
Williams also criticized Bell for what he said was the mayor’s failure to substantially reduce crime during his eight-year tenure. Williams said his plan to reduce crime would be two-fold—increasing pay for police officers to ensure Durham was able to recruit the best candidates for the job and increasing funding for community centers that would keep high-risk youth out of trouble.
“You’ve got to get to the root of the problem,” he said. “We’ve taken the money away from the community centers and then put them on shoe-string budgets. We fuel the crimes and the gangs in the community when we throw them out onto the streets.”
He noted that keeping Durham safe would also encourage more student involvement in the community. Instead of providing economic incentives, Williams said the city must attract students to put their energy and resources into community service.
Students who attended the event said Williams seemed to be both knowledgeable and honest, although they could not gauge his chances of victory come Nov. 3.
“It’s interesting that he is a Republican, but I don’t think he and his campaign manager are going to be overtly advertising the fact that he is a Republican,” said sophomore Charlie Sullivan. “I think it works to his advantage that it is a nonpartisan election.”
When questioned by a student as to how he would pay for some of his new projects and what items he would cut from the budget, Williams declined to give specifics.
“To know what I would cut I would have to be in the position to make the cuts, to know where the fluff is,” Williams said. “But what we do know is that there is a lot of fluff.”
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Another student asked Williams his thoughts on the tensions between students and residents in the Trinity Heights neighborhood off East Campus. Williams said that if he were a member of city council, he would oppose noise ordinances targeted at students who party off campus.
Williams added when pressed that ultimately, people who decide to make their home near a college campus should expect some noise when students partied.
“It’s almost like living on a golf course. Sooner or later, when you’re living down by the 16th hole, your house is going to be hit by a ball,” he said.