Mayor-elect Leo Williams shares vision for Durham

Tom George Image
Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Mayor-elect Leo Williams talks about push to reduce crime in Durham
Crime remains a top issue for people living in Durham.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Heading into this election for Durham, the race for Bull City mayor was quickly upended when incumbent Mayor Elaine O'Neal announced she would not run for re-election. That prompted a wide field of 8 candidates throwing their hat in the ring.

After the primary pitted Councilman Leo Williams against longtime State Senator Mike Woodard in November, in the end, it was Williams who won Tuesday in a landslide, capping off a rapid rise to the Mayor's office after just 2 years in council, and creating a generational shift in Bull City leadership.

ABC11 sat down with Mayor-elect Williams one-on-one to discuss his plans for the Bull City. After a night celebrating his win, he says he's ready to get to work.

Changing Durham's Political Culture

Williams is the first to tell you he never planned to run for Mayor. He said he was already busy with the restaurant businesses he and his wife are involved in, but he felt called to run based on behavior he saw on City Council contributing to dysfunction in the city.

"I had to step down or step up, I was frustrated like everyone else with the current council and our behavior and all the things that come with it, but who am I to complain about it, if I'm not going to do anything about it, then I need to be quiet. So I decided to do something about it," he said.

Despite having served on the council himself, Williams views himself as a change agent, and he wants to change the city culture from the top down. He said the three newly elected and council members -- Nate Baker, Javiera Caballero, and Carl Rist -- share that vision, and he's ready to hit the ground running.

Despite having served on the council himself, Williams views himself as a change agent, and he wants to change the city culture from the top down.

Reducing Crime In Durham

One of the biggest issues on many voters' minds was crime in the Bull City.

The moment Williams was announced the winner of the mayoral race and was celebrating at his watch party, he was notified about a triple shooting at two different crime scenes.

Williams said he understands crime is something he will have to grapple with as Mayor. He said while police are part of that equation, he also hopes to make a dent in tacking some of the root causes of crime.

"There is no single magic wand that you can wave and crime is just going to stop, as long as we're human, this is the raw truth, as long as we have human behavior we're always going to have human infraction and that is just something we are going to have to understand. People said politics is people work; we have to work with people," he said.

To Williams, part of that is providing people with opportunities like well-paying jobs. He's also supportive of the recent expansion of the city's HEART program, which sends social workers and counselors to 911 calls where people are in mental health crisis.

On the police side of things, Williams said he wants to see the vacant positions on the force filled. He also touted the city's efforts to secure fair wages for city workers -- something he said the council approved for sanitation workers and can be done for law enforcement as well.

Crime remains a top issue for people living in Durham.

Capitalizing On Durham's Growth

Williams' election comes at a time of rapid growth for the City of Durham, gaining national recognition for becoming a tourism and business destination.

Williams said he wants to capitalize on that, while also making longtime locals feel like they are a part of the growth.

"I want this region to be an economic powerhouse and I want us to be able to do it without the cost of losing people. I think that everyone who's here, everyone who lives here can be a part of this amazing journey we can write together, and that includes folks who still live here who worked in the tobacco industry all the way to folks who moved here last week who work in the tech industry," he said.

Part of that, Williams said, includes better public transportation and affordable housing. He also wants to see better collaboration between the city and institutions like Duke University and tech companies. He also would like a see progress on a new convention center for Durham.

Mayor-elect Williams will be inaugurated the first week in December. He said he has already been in touch with Mayor Elaine O'Neal about fostering a smooth transition to his new administration.