After arriving early at the Mad Hatter to interview Durham City Council member Steve Schewel, I debated with my desire for a delectable baked good to complement the conversation.
Before I could decide, Schewel arrived, more or less decked out in professorial attire. I had not known that he’s long been a visiting assistant professor in the Hart Leadership Program at Duke.
I checked his gray tweed-like garment for elbow patches but saw none, thankfully.
When he talks, Schewel is unexpectedly soft-spoken for someone with such strong convictions. I informed him that our interview would be edited for clarity and brevity.
“I trust you, Gaspo,” he all but whispered.
That may have been his first mistake. But as a former overseer of writers at the The Independent, which he co-founded, Schewel knows how these things work.
I gulped some tasty coffee and got going.
“So Steve, I haven’t been able to come up with anything especially negative about you.”
Schewel: “Well, let’s hope it stays that way.”
“Today is a tough day. The cartoonist-journalists in France have just been murdered.”
Schewel: “And there are more hostages being held. It’s unbelievable. Is this what we have come to in the world?”
“You’ve taught a seminar on terrorism. How are you qualified to teach that subject?”
Schewel: I have a great boss. I get great latitude. I don’t have to be an expert.”
“The name of the course?
“Well, that cuts right to the heart of it.”
(Decades ago, Schewel spent eight days in jail after being convicted for trespassing during a protest against nuclear power. He’s been involved in many protests since. Schewel bares this fact like a badge of honor.)
“Where did you get this activism from?
Schewel: “First, my parents. They were incredibly involved in the community where I grew up.”
(I discovered that Schewel and I were raised about 50 miles from each other in Virginia.)
Schewel: “A lot of it also comes from my brand of Judaism. It’s very oriented toward having a social conscience.”
(The Watts-Hillandale resident has also run marathons, coached soccer and adores the Avett Brothers. Their 2013 album release: “Magpie and the Dandelion.”)
“Your bio also says, ‘he fancies himself a pretty good cook.’”
Schewel: “Well, I love to cook.”
“A favorite dish?”
Schewel: “Anything from ‘Jerusalem: A Cookbook.’
“From a distance, I’ve been getting this feeling you’re cooking up a run for mayor of Durham.”
Schewel: “I support Bill Bell 100 percent. But after he finishes, whenever that is, I’d like to take a crack at it, yes.”
“Interesting. Are we breaking some news here?
“Have you talked to Mayor Bell about it?”
Schewel: “Well, he knows he has my full support.”
“Will you have his full support?”
Schewel: “I don’t know.”
(Schewel has spoken and written with emotion about recent protests on the streets of Durham tied to police treatment of minorities here and elsewhere, DN, nando.com/tz)
“So what do you really think about Police Chief Jose Lopez?”
“Take your time.”
“I didn’t mean that much time.”
Schewel: “He’s got some really good qualities and some things he needs to improve on.”
“Should Durham police wear body cameras?”
Schewel: “They will be. The city manager is all about it now.”
(The first-term council member has ridden on municipal garbage trucks. He stood on the back, jumped down, rolled the cans, and then climbed back up.)
Schewel: “Yep. One route has 700 cans. I learned how hard those folks work. I also found out I should have worn hard-toed shoes.”
(Schewel is married to Lao Rubert, who directs the Carolina Justice Policy Center. The couple has two sons.)
Lao Rubert is sort of an exotic name.”
Schewel: “Yes, but she’s a good ‘ole Missouri girl. She’s named after someone who was named after Lao-tzu.”
(Lao-tzu was a legendary philosopher from ancient China. One of the near-countless quotes attributed to him: “I have just three things to teach: Simplicity, patience, compassion. Those three are your greatest treasures.”)
“You and Ms. Rubert seem like soul mates, philosophically. Where did you meet?
Schewel: “In the shallow end while coaching youngsters. I still remember the first day I saw her in the pool.”
“What are three words you would use to describe Durham?
Schewel: “Can I have six?
“You’re pushing it.”
Schewel: “We need to be for everybody.”
“OK, that’s six words. Clever. Do you have a Twitter account?”
“If you run for mayor someday, that will probably change.”
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at email@example.com or 919-219-0042.