Mark-Anthony Middleton is proposing several policy reforms that center equitable development, diversity and poverty reduction in his bid for reelection to Durham City Council Ward II representative.
“As an elected official, I’m a brand ambassador of the city of Durham. All the wonderful things that go on in our city, I believe it, I trumpet it and I represent it, not only here, but around the country,” Middleton said.
One of Middleton’s top priorities is to reduce gun violence in Durham.
“But there's another narrative about Durham, and that is that on many nights, many children, particularly Black and brown children, are jumping in bathtubs to dodge gunfire," he continued. "No matter how many great things we have going on here in Durham, they're all contingent upon a heartbeat. You have to be alive to participate in them.”
Middleton has advocated for a multifaceted and comprehensive approach to gun violence. He has called for tactical short-term solutions such as gunshot detection technology that would dispatch help without the need for a 911 call, a technology that some community members support and other city council members have expressed reservations about due to unreliable results. Middleton also believes in reorganizing police and spending money on social programs.
“We need a police department that polices according to our values, whose posture and deployment is not based upon [a] warrior [mentality], but based upon [a] servant [mentality],” Middleton said.
During his first term, Middleton worked with his colleagues to allocate around one million dollars to expand Bull City United, a program that utilized the violence interruption model to deal with gun violence, focusing on non-policing, direct intervention. Data published on the program shows that from 2016 to 2018, total shooting incidents in the two target areas decreased from 85 to 61—a 28% decrease—and the number of people shot decreased from 46 to 22, a 52% decrease.
Middleton also highlights the importance of addressing the root causes of gun violence. He hopes to implement a guaranteed minimum income, a relatively new idea that would work to reduce and ultimately eliminate poverty.
If reelected, Middleton will “seek to codify guaranteed income and become an ambassador for it nationally.”
“We're not giving away exotic cars or big mansions. This is basically us as a society saying there is a line beneath which we will not allow you to fall by virtue of you, by virtue of your humanity, and by virtue of your citizenship,” Middleton said. “When people aren't doing creative calculus about how they're going to feed their children or pay their bills, it makes for better neighbors, when folk don't have to come up with creative ways to do things that a lot of us take for granted. Also, it's a permanent stimulus to our economy— that money gets turned around and spent.”
Although Middleton wishes to see this program ultimately be implemented on the federal level, a guaranteed income pilot program is already materializing in Durham. Middleton has worked with the mayor and other city council members to fundraise for the program on top of a $500,000 donation from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and $119,000 that is coming out of the municipal fund.
The program, named Excel, is being administered by StepUp Durham, a non-profit organization. Beginning this December, 115 formerly-incarcerated individuals will receive a monthly $500 check.
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Middleton also has plans to address other problems facing the Durham community.
With Apple and Google announcing plans to build campuses in the Triangle, Middleton believes gentrification is a huge issue.
“We have legacy, long standing historic neighborhoods and dirt that are disappearing before our very eyes,” Middleton said. He said that area prices will rise along with taxes, forcing those on fixed incomes to sell their property to developers who will flip it for a lot more money.
“What can we do? Well, one of the things I propose is a Marshall Plan type investment into those legacy neighborhoods to preserve them through low interest or no interest loans or grants,” Middleton said. The Marshall Plan was an economic recovery program in the United States that sent billions of dollars to Europe after World War II to help the continent rebuild.
Middleton also advocates for several other tools to address gentrification, such as expanding Neighborhood Protection Overlay, encouraging financial literacy and wealth building and promoting shared economic prosperity through guaranteed income.
In regards to public transport, Middleton supports continuing the fare-free model that was implemented in response to COVID-19. He also wants well-paid drivers, route expansion and good headway times.
“I would encourage Duke students and folks who are living in the city who are affluent and have cars to find your nearest bus route and try it. One of the things we've got to do is destigmatize the bus route and public transportation here in Durham,” Middleton said.
Middleton also will continue to push for the use of city property to build affordable housing, seek to build bridges between the growing immigrant population in Durham and implement more CROWN Act-like resolutions to protect worker rights and make Durham fully competitive in terms of salary and benefits for its workers.
Before serving his first term, Middleton was part of the leadership apparatus of Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, which works on issues of police reform, affordable housing and supporting immigrants. He was persuaded by people around him to run for his current Ward II seat after the incumbent decided not to run for reelection.
“A lot of what I want to do is to continue building upon the work I've done in the first four years,” Middleton said. “I’m seeking permission from the people of the city of Durham and students at Duke who vote here as well to continue to do that.”