Matherly sees brushes with law as 'badge of honor'

Staff writerNovember 28, 2010 

— Like Victoria Peterson, another failed candidate for public office, Steven Matherly, sees his brushes with the law as a “badge of honor” for standing up for what he believes. Matherly was acquitted on a disorderly conduct charge after police dragged him out of a school board meeting in April 2005. He’d refused to stay in his seat in protest of time limits on citizen speakers, an act of civil disobedience he’d been publicly threatening for months.

In June of that year, with the disorderly conduct charge still pending, Matherly accosted an opposing activist trying to collect signatures to change how school board candidates are elected. Republican activist Charlotte Woods contacted police, saying Matherly bumped her with his belly during an altercation in an east Durham shopping center, calling her a white racist need approvalbitch and telling her to go back to “the plantation in Hope Valley”, an historic south Durham country-club neighborhood. At the time, Matherly denied any physical contact and said he called her a “biddy” and told her to go back to the plantation. He said both were yelling and Woods should not have felt threatened.

Possible cutThat summer, Matherly also began publishing The Durham Community News: Durham’s Hometown Paper, a short-lived project intended so “I would be sure that my point of view would be printed,” according to his editorial from September of that year. The paper included unsubstantiated rumors about public officials and defenses of Matherly and his allies’ controversial political activity.

A Durham native who moved back after spending his 20s in Boston, Matherly has tried his hand at restaurateurship, videography, mental health-care, English education, used cars, the Latin-American import/export business and stay-at-home fatherhood. But his political activism is what puts him in the spotlight. Matherly has served on the City-County Planning Commission, spoken out against the Southpoint SuperTarget and presided over the progressive Durham People’s Alliance.

Matherly did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment for this story.

"I know that everyone is talking about getting along and being civil,” he said during his campaign for school board in 2004. “But the job description is not ‘play well with others.’ The job description is get something done. If that means sometimes butting heads with others, then so be it."

Matherly ended up resigning as president of the People’s Alliance after members complained he was speaking out on issues under their banner without their approval, according to long-time member Milo Pyne.

“We were in the habit of working with people who worked collaboratively and cooperatively and didn’t just go off and do things randomly and on their own,” said Pyne. “That was the pattern of behavior that we encountered with Steven, and people had a hard time with that.”

Pyne said he respected Matherly’s impulse to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” but found that his choice of causes often lacked discernment, including on the Mangum case. “You have to pick your battles,” he said.

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8760

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