Phil Lehman was officially sworn in to fill his longtime friend Paul Luebke’ seat last month, but his term as a state representative will only last a month or so.
Lehman, a a longtime consumer advocate in the state attorney general’s office who retired three years ago, was appointed to the seat the night before the Nov. 8 election and plans to step down in January.
“I don’t think there was enough time to do all the vetting process and consulting with the political groups to find somebody younger than I was to be in this for the long haul,” said Lehman, 70.
Luebke, 70, a Democrat who represented Durham for 25 years in the state House, died in late October. He had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2015 and received treatment, but suffered a sudden return of the cancer.
Luebke, who was running for re-election to a 14th term, remained on the ballot for the general election
According to elected officials, a subset of the Durham County Democratic Party Executive Committee that included precinct chairs and vice chairs and elected officials in House District 30, initially planned to fill the seat after the election. That changed after concerns were raised about procedure and possible future complications.
“The recommendation was made by the state Democratic Party that we didn’t want to go through the election cycle without having somebody appointed to serve in his place on the ballot,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat who said he preferred taking that route from the beginning.
The subset of the Durham committee met Nov. 7 and voted to appoint Lehman to the seat as a place holder to fill the existing term and the start of the new term.
At least four candidates want the seat when Lehman steps down.
▪ Danielle Adams, 32, is an eight-year member of the Durham County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors who was recently re-elected. She is the southern coordinator for Local Progress, an arm of the national nonprofit Center for Popular Democracy. It encourages progressive policy making at the local level.
Adams wants to bring a strong, pragmatic, progressive voice that represents young people, women and people of color.
“I don’t think my voice has been reflected, and I think part of my desire comes in wanting to see that change and being that change not only for myself but for the many others like me,” she said.
▪ Shelia Huggins, 49, is a private attorney who worked for the city for eight years, most recently as a senior administration manager with the Department of Economic and Workforce Development. Huggins said she has focused on supporting entrepreneurship by serving on the N.C. Central University School of Business Board of Visitors and Alamance Community College Small Business Center Board of Advisers.
Huggins wants to improve the economic vitality of the state.
“I would really like to see us build a business climate that is supportive of people who are trying to build businesses and people who already have business in the state of North Carolina,” she said.
▪ Marcia Morey, 61, Durham County’s chief district judge, has served on the bench for nearly 18 years. She was a driving force behind the county’s misdemeanor diversion program, which was the first in the state after it was established in 2014 to give 16- and 17-year-olds charged with certain misdemeanors a second chance. The program was later expanded to18- to 21-year-olds and has been a model for other counties across the state
Morey said she is up for a new challenge to help make better policies and laws.
“I think after 18 years in the courts, you see many issues that would come before the General Assembly,” Morey said. “It has given me a lot of awareness and experience to kind of know how to look at laws, and how they are interpreted, and the impact they have on people’s lives.”
▪ Sherri Zann Rosenthal, 59, is a senior assistant city of Durham attorney. She worked as a contract attorney for the city for six years before becoming an assistant city attorney in 1995. Rosenthal served as president of the Durham-Orange Women Attorneys and created a committee on child sexual trafficking in Durham. The committee’s advocacy lead to the creation of the Durham County Task Force Against Child Sexual Exploitation, which is providing prevention training in schools and promoting the gathering of information of cases that come through the Durham County Department of Social Services.
Rosenthal said public policy has always been her core interest.
“I think that at the state level we have really gotten away from fact-based public policy, and we have gotten very polarized. It is very important that we join together so that we solve real problem,” she said.