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Mayoral candidates Ali, Schewel talk gentrification, Duke's role in Durham at on-campus event

Mayoral candidates Farad Ali and Steve Schewel visited campus Tuesday to talk with students before the upcoming election.

In a roundtable discussion, the two candidates shared their visions for the city of Durham and how Duke students can engage themselves in Durham’s culture of “positive activism.” The event, which was sponsored by Duke Democrats, offered students a chance to ask both Ali, a business consultant and former city council member, and Schewel, Trinity ’73 and a member on the Durham City Council, questions in a more informal setting compared to past roundtables held before the Oct. 10 primaries.

Similar to previous events, affordable housing dominated much of the conversation.

Both candidates acknowledged the impact that the revitalization of downtown Durham has had in driving up prices both downtown and in adjacent neighborhoods.

“Gentrification and its ramifications is the most important issue facing Durham today,” Schewel said. “We’re not going to stop the forces of gentrification, but what we can do is moderate its effects.”

Ali echoed Schewel’s sentiments, adding that the development of downtown Durham and other neighborhoods should be “really intentional” and should reflect Durham’s culture of “inclusion.”

He explained his vision for development, especially in the downtown area, making the case for projects that improve “profits, property and people.” With this approach, Ali hoped that economic development in Durham “will be less about developers and affordable housing and more about our community.”

Both candidates emphasized the unique role that Duke and its students have in the larger Durham community and the opportunities available for political and civic engagement. The candidates, who are both Democrats, praised Durham voters’ progressive values and commitment to community involvement. 

Schewel acknowledged that much of the “downtown renaissance” would not have been possible without Duke and its graduates. He also noted that the relationship between Duke and Durham has changed drastically over the years.

“Duke has a critical role to play in our economic development,” Schewel noted. “What Duke does sets the precedent for our city.”

Ali repeatedly emphasized Durham’s unique culture in his talking points and encouraged Duke students to take advantage of the distinctive environment during their time on campus.

He praised the “activating” nature of life in Durham, highlighting the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and People’s Alliance as examples of the myriad opportunities available for engagement in activism. 

“We have a great intelligence pool [in Durham]," Ali said. "The question is how do we work better together?”

Despite the candidates’ visions for improvements in Durham, Ali noted that difficulty lies ahead no matter who is elected. 

“The One Durham model [Ali's slogan] is going to be hard," he said. "It’s a hard thing to get people to get rid of ‘isms’ [such as] classism and racism that exist everywhere.” 

Despite the difficulties, Ali expressed his hope that the next mayor could combine the city’s various resources with its culture of engagement to create change.

“Durham is a family," he said. "We don’t need to have the ‘isms’ that separate us…We can make the city we love a city for all.”

Early voting for the mayoral and city council races has already started, and continues until Saturday Nov. 4, with Election Day on Nov. 7.

Students who live on West and Central campuses can vote at W.I. Patterson Recreation Center on Crest Street. The election polling site for students registered to vote on East Campus is George Watts Elementary School.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Election Day is Nov. 7, not Nov. 6. The Chronicle regrets the error.