Durham councilman provides insight on challenges Mayor-elect Elaine O'Neal faces

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Monday, December 6, 2021
Durham councilman provides insight on challenges new mayor elect faces
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Durham Ward 2 councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton provided some insight about the challenges the city faces as its leadership changes.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Leadership is changing in Durham, as the city will swear in its first Black female mayor on Monday.

Mayor-elect Elaine O'Neal will take over from Steve Schewel who has been mayor since 2017.

Ward 2 Councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton sat down with ABC11 on Sunday to talk about the challenges O'Neal and other city leaders face during this transition. You can read his comments below:

"A city that still has not declared an end to the pandemic. We're still a pandemic government, so there'll be issues with how we posture the city moving forward. We know that gun violence is a big issue too, for the incoming mayor and for this council as well. We've got staffing issues and compensation issues when it comes to first responders, particularly our police, to deal with. So there's a lot that's going to be waiting for us on our plates. But I hope we'll all take a moment to breathe that rarefied air of history for a little while."

"Her honor is very much about unifying the city. You know, Durham is a very vibrant public square, and we've got a lot of groups that are very active and very vocal. Oftentimes, it seems like we're at odds but we all want the same thing. We want an equitable city. We want a welcoming city. So she's going to be very big on pulling a lot of voices in from different places along the spectrum together to meet and talk about the issues of our city."

"I know that gun violence is very important to her and what's been happening in our streets in Durham. So not only leveraging the power we have in City Hall, but also leveraging her significant reservoir of good goodwill with organizations in Durham. Grassroots organizations, to look at where we need to put funding, where we need to put the spotlight in the city, where we need to put all of the levers and buttons that we can pull and push as a city to do something about gun violence in our city. So I know those are issues that are top of mind for her."

"Good Friday taught us the importance of letting an investigation run its course. Many people had labeled (the gunfire at the Streets at Southpoint mall) as just rampant gun violence connected to gangs. The investigation has taught us some other things about what actually happened on Friday. But it also reminds us that Durham is not insulated from the rest of the country. Gun violence is a uniquely American problem. We weren't the only mall that made national news that day, or the only city that made national news for gun violence on that day. America is the most heavily armed society on the face of the planet. There are more guns than people here. We know that it's a national problem. But as an elected official, and also the mayor elect as well as an elected official... I don't want to minimize what happened here. But we know that this is a uniquely American problem with guns but we also have a government that's coming in that's intent on dealing with it head on and bringing all of our ingenuity and creativity and our tools as a city to bear on."

"Durham is the 'it city.' We've got one of the hottest foodie scenes. We've got the best theater between Atlanta and New York, with the highest per capita PhD rates in the country, great weather, Duke, NCCU and just great people. Durham is where folks want to be, so we totally affirm that. But we also know that the folk who made Durham 'Durham', legacy neighborhoods like Hayti, like Merrick Moore, like Braggtown, and many folks are indeed being priced out of our city. This is something that this is a deep concern to this mayor. And we talked about ways where we can stabilize these neighborhoods. When I was on the campaign trail, I spoke with how the United States spent millions of dollars to rebuild Europe after World War Two, and something called a Marshall Plan. How we as a city need to consider Marshall Plan type investments to stabilize and preserve particularly some of these legacy black neighborhoods that give us that panache and swag, so we won't become a 'cooker cookie cutter city'. So in addition to talking to community partners about chronic crime and gun violence with her honor, we'll also be convening community partners, to talk about creative ways to stabilize the areas that make Durham 'Durham'."

"We know as a government, there are things we can do and can't do there. There are certain restrictions that our legislature puts on us, but we are free to partner with corporate and philanthropic and other community partners to come up with creative ways to preserve our city, our neighborhoods. We need much more to be done to keep Durham from becoming a cookie cutter city, and I know this mayor, this incoming mayor is committed to that."

"She's spoken of how she's had people come before her who didn't really need jail, they needed mental health but they needed counseling, they needed another option. And if you don't have all the players talking to one another how to coordinate those options. You will continue to have incarceration rates for folks who don't need to be incarcerated. And unfortunately, at times there are people walking the streets you don't need to be walking the streets. So it's really important that we foster without doing any violence to the firewalls or legal firewalls between our jurisdictions."

"I want everybody to just pause and take in the history. And then let's get to work. The mayor elect has said she's put a challenge out there for everybody in the city to put in at least a couple of hours of volunteerism each week. She's already begun meeting with community stakeholders. Just yesterday, we met with community stakeholders to talk about gun violence in our city and things that we can do to tamp down gun violence but also preserve legacy neighborhoods in Durham. Look for us to be dealing immediately, with issues of staffing and compensation with our police department and other departments. Look for us to be talking to folks who may not agree with us who may have some different views on how the city should run as well. I think this is an administration the mayor is going to hit the ground running, and I certainly look forward to the role I'm going to play in helping her."

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