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'Embracing new opportunities’: Mayoral candidate Leonardo Williams looks to help Durham realize its full potential

Durham City Council member Leonardo Williams was faced with the choice to step up or step down after two years on the Council. He chose the former, and now he's one of two candidates running for Durham's next mayor. 

Williams is looking to make significant changes to Durham and help the city realize its full potential if elected as mayor. He was the highest polling candidate in Durham’s primary municipal elections on Oct. 10, garnering 51.28% of the vote, and will face state Sen. Mike Woodard in the general election on Nov. 7.

Williams was elected to City Council in 2021. Prior to that, he worked as a teacher and administrator, and was twice named teacher of the year by Durham Public Schools. 

In addition to serving on Durham City Council, Williams and his wife, Zweli, own and run Zweli’s Kitchen and Restaurant, which has a location in Duke’s Divinity school. He’s an advocate for small businesses and is looking to create better job opportunities for Durhamites.

“I believe in holistic and efficient government. I believe a lot of the issues that we're facing today are symptomatic of a broken system,” Williams said, describing the “vitriol divisiveness” he experienced during his time on the council. 

“You can't be hungry or thirsty in office. You can't be in public office to be relevant,” he said. “I didn't need to be in public office, I wasn't thinking relevancy. I was just looking to work hard,” 

As mayor, Williams said he would focus on expanding public transportation, developing the workforce, combating crime and creating a unified culture. Implementing an efficient government and acting on behalf of the people are his planned first steps toward meeting those goals.

“This race isn’t about the newness of the things we've been talking about. This race has been about character. This race has been about new culture,” Williams said. 

Williams views this "new culture" as a social policy — one in which someone can "get to know [their neighbor again]."

“We have a well-run city — one of the best-run cities in the nation — but as a community, are we fulfilling all of what we have? No, we're not. And in order to recognize that, you need a culture that is embracing of new opportunities,” Williams said. 

Public transportation is one issue that Williams has advocated for as a City Council member. He commented that by expanding public transportation, fewer people will have to rely on cars, helping save money, lower carbon emissions, expand access to jobs and promote affordable living. 

Another initiative that Williams is passionate about is expanding the Durham workforce. As a City Council member, he implemented a city-wide apprenticeship, a program that he would like to expand as mayor. 

Williams also hopes to curtail crime in Durham, especially for young men of color.  

“I know that Black and brown boys are overwhelmingly engaged in criminal activity,” Williams said. “That is why I got funding in the [Durham] budget, for a task force on the status of Black and brown boys and men.” 

If elected, Williams plans to build upon the task force and establish "concrete recommendations" to address gun violence.

Williams stressed the significance of Duke students’ ability to vote in Durham. 

“People often say that Duke is a privileged portion of the city that doesn't give back. The students have the ability to change that narrative,” Williams said. He expressed that it is important for students to understand local issues, which would allow them to, “enhance [themselves], and also be an enhancement to the community around [them].” 

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