State Politics

Long-serving Durham legislator Paul Luebke dies at 70

Paul Luebke
Paul Luebke

Democratic state Rep. Paul Luebke, who represented Durham for 25 years in the state House, has died at 70.

Luebke was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2015 and received treatment. But Durham City Council member Steve Schewel said in a statement Sunday that Luebke suffered a sudden return of the cancer.

Schewel said Luebke had been a “chief architect of our city’s current political culture, and for 25 years he has been our state’s unflinching progressive champion in the General Assembly – a north star for everything good.”

Luebke, who was running for re-election to a 14th term in the House, remains on the ballot.

Members of the Durham County Democratic Party from Luebke’s district must meet before Election Day to name a replacement candidate, and that person will receive Luebke’s votes.

The party will vote separately to choose someone to fill the remainder of Luebke’s current term.

Tributes to Luebke poured in Sunday from across the political spectrum.

Charlie Reece, a Durham city councilman, tweeted that “Durham has suffered a tremendous loss. Paul Luebke was my hero, my mentor and my friend.”

Rep. Verla Insko of Orange County, a progressive Democrat like Luebke, also counted him as a mentor. She said his sense of humor and institutional knowledge will be missed – as will what she called Luebke’s old-school demeanor.

“He was not personal about his ideology,” Insko said. “He advocated strongly for what he believed in, but he didn’t ever malign another person in any way or use personal attacks to discredit someone else.”

Rep. Grier Martin, a Democrat from Raleigh, called Luebke “the liberal conscience of the House of Representatives.”

Expressions of grief came from the other side of the political aisle, as well.

Sean Haugh, a Libertarian from Durham who is running for U.S. Senate, said he twice ran against Luebke – but that they were friends and would even carpool to their debates.

“Voted for him gladly whenever it wasn’t me next to him on the ballot,” Haugh tweeted.

T. Greg Doucette, a Republican running for a different House seat in Durham, called Luebke’s passing terrible news.

“Rep. Luebke was stridently liberal, but still a good guy and solid legislator,” Doucette tweeted.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement that Luebke “was a dedicated servant whose long career in education and in the General Assembly reflected his undeniable passion for serving his district and helping the people of North Carolina.”

Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, in a statement of his own, called Luebke “a friend and dedicated public servant.” Cooper and Luebke were in the General Assembly together for most of the 1990s.

“Paul never wavered from advocating for justice and fairness for the people of his district and North Carolina,” Cooper said.

Luebke was an associate professor of sociology at UNC-Greensboro.

He is survived by his son Theo Luebke; his father, Paul Luebke Sr.; a granddaughter, Adele Rose Derello-Luebke; a brother, Tim Wong; and his partner, Sherrie Cannoy.

“My father showed me what it means to live in a loving community that fights for things that matter,” Theo Luebke said in a statement. “He taught me how to see the world and how to imagine a better one; how to organize and how to win. It has been one of the enduring blessings of my life to be his son.”

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran