Bull City Politics: Durham City Council members announce re-election bids

Durham Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson speaks at a City Council meeting on Monday, August 6, 2018.
Durham Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson speaks at a City Council meeting on Monday, August 6, 2018. jwall@newsobserver.com

[This story was corrected at 6 p.m. March 5]

All three Durham City Council members whose terms are up this fall announced campaigns Tuesday morning, with the same platform.

Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson and council member Charlie Reece, whose four-year at-large terms end in November, will seek re-election.

Council member Javiera Caballero, who was appointed to an at-large seat in January 2018, will also run. This will be Caballero’s first campaign. She is currently serving out the at-large council seat left vacant by Mayor Steve Schewel when he was elected in 2017.

Reece and Johnson announced their re-election bids on Twitter Tuesday morning with photographs of all three candidates and their shared platform called “Bull City Together.”

“The three of us really like working together, and we’d really like to keep doing that,” Reece said. They’ve spent the past four or five months working on their shared platform and will roll out concrete policy plans during the campaign, he said.

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“I think activist has a lot of different meanings,” says Durham Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, in her office at City Hall. “For me, it’s the easiest word to describe community organizing.” Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dawnbvaughan@heraldsun.com

Johnson was elected mayor pro tem by her fellow council members in December 2017. Her priorities have been the participatory budgeting program and the Racial Equity Task Force, which both got off the ground this past year. The council voted to spend $2.4 million on participatory budgeting projects, which may be suggested by any Durham resident age 13 and older and will be voted upon in May.

Caballero is the first Latina member of the City Council. She has advocated for immigrants in sanctuary, bilingual city services and documents, and being “vigilant” in the wake of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that have arrested people who are in the country illegally.

Johnson, Caballero and Reece are all parents of elementary-age children who are enrolled in the Durham Public Schools system. Caballero, who is originally from Chile, is a former PTA president at West Club Boulevard Magnet Elementary School.

Newly appointed Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero, right, talks with Durham City Council member Charlie Reece about the upcoming council meeting where she was to be sworn in less than an hour after being appointed. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Johnson, Caballero and Reece are registered Democrats. The current City Council members rarely split their votes, as all of them are progressive. Mayor Steve Schewel has said Durham is a “progressive beacon of the South.”

Johnson and Reece were endorsed by the People’s Alliance political action committee in 2015, which also endorsed the appointment of Caballero. Johnson is also a founder of Durham for All, a grassroots political group that started endorsing candidates last year. [This story was corrected to include that Durham for All has made endorsements.] Johnson also serves on the board of Local Progress, a group of progressive elected officials across the country.

Candidate filing in the non-partisan city election begins at noon July 5. Durham’s municipal primary is on Oct. 8. Election Day is Nov. 5.

The terms of council members DeDreana Freeman, Mark-Anthony Middleton and Vernetta Alston, representing Ward 1, 2 and 3, respectively, do not end until 2021.

Unlike the four-year council seats, the mayor’s seat has a two-year term. Schewel has yet to announce if he is running for re-election.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.