When Durham’s City Council opened for business in 2016, it was missing two respected, long-time members who’d decided not to run again.
On council, Diane Catotti was tireless, focused, approachable, and no-nonsense. Eugene Brown was outspoken, determined and impatient, in a good way. An idea guy.
I recently asked each about their tenures, their city, and about the surge in violent crime and deaths in a place they both served more than a decade.
What emotions do you have when you read about another homicide in Durham and/or the recent spate of homicides?
Brown: Sad and frustrated.
Catotti: Dread, and profound sadness.
Would you agree this isn't really a police or law enforcement problem? Is it a family problem? Poverty problem?
Brown: The Durham Police Department can only do so much … it always goes back to the family, but too few homes in Durham have fathers.
Catotti: This is all of our problem. I do think poverty contributes to a lack of hope and feeling of possibility.
Do you think (Mayor) Bell, council, the city managers and chiefs have done as much as they can?
Brown: This is a tough challenge for our community. We can and should do more.
Catotti: We can all do more, but I applaud their efforts to date.
Thoughts about the next chief?
Brown: I would like to see an experienced chief who is also a good listener and is willing to get officers engaged in community policing even if it costs more.
Catotti: I’ve shared my thoughts with the firm recruiting the new chief.
What did you really like about serving on council? What did you find distasteful?
Brown: I like seeing the major progress we've made. Some of us recall what Durham was like 12 or 13 years ago, and it wasn't pretty.
Catotti: I loved working with city staff and my council colleagues to try to address the many challenges facing our city.
How would you describe the job you did?
Brown: I believe in action, and not just rhetoric. Just look around.
Catotti: I promised to be open, fair and effective, and think I lived up to that.
The Durham Police Department can only do so much … it always goes back to the family, but too few homes in Durham have fathers.
Eugene Brown, former City Council member
What would you say to a young, at-risk African-American teen in Durham, say age 14, about his choices and how he can avoid being drawn into a life of guns, gangs and crime. Someone who is already veering off course.
Brown: Tough love: Let him know that if he chooses the path of drugs and guns, he will be destroyed by both. Connect him to the many programs that already exist in Durham. Let him know there are positive alternatives.
Catotti: Have hope, get involved, ask for help.
How would you rate City Manager Tom Bonfield? Don’t give him an A, especially after such a sobering year when it comes to gun violence.
Brown: He’s one of the best city managers in the state.
Catotti: He works hard and is committed to helping solve the many challenges facing our community. He’s a compassionate leader and one of the most ethical men I know.
How have you felt since leaving council?
Brown: I’ve had mixed feelings about leaving … almost like drinking an enticing cocktail comprised of two jiggers of happy and one of sad.
Catotti: I do miss serving on council – I miss the staff and my colleagues, and the opportunity to address numerous problems every day. That said, I’m very glad to be under less stress.
What can folks who want to help do to get at causes?
Brown: The major cause is the high number of fatherless homes we have in Durham, but no one wants to talk about it.
Catotti: Volunteer; get involved – at whatever moves them – reading to kids, coaching them, building houses, etc.
Who will be next Durham's next mayor? Is Steve Schewel a shoo-in? Is he your guy?
Brown: Steve would make a fine mayor, but this is Durham and with an open seat there is no shoo-in.
Catotti: I think Steve Schewel would be a great mayor. He’s brilliant, works hard and is very compassionate.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at email@example.com or 919-219-0042.