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The results are in! After Durham’s primary municipal elections on Tuesday, October 10, 2023, voters chose Leonardo (Leo) Williams and Mike Woodard as the two candidates to vie for the position of mayor. Leo Williams is a current member of Durham City Council and co-owner of Zweli’s Kitchen and Restaurant. Mike Woodard, Trinity ‘81, is a current North Carolina state senator.

Voters also selected six candidates to move forward to the municipal elections for City Council. The top six choices for the three at-large City Council seats are Nate Baker, Javiera Caballero, Carl Rist, Khalilah Karim, Sheila Huggins and Monique Holsey-Hyman.

Duke Human Rights Center @ FHI intern Aseel Ibrahim attended a Durham Candidate Forum + Mixer held at Duke University on September 27. She talked with Leo Williams, Mike Woodard, Nate Baker, and Khalliah Karim, about their thoughts on human rights issues that affect Durham. Read more about their views below, and visit the candidates’ websites to learn more. (Comments have been edited for length and clarity.)

Don’t forget to vote in the general election on Tuesday, November 7, 2023! To learn more about how to vote in North Carolina, visit the Duke Votes website.

Durham Mayoral Candidates: Leo Williams and Mike Woodward

Leo Williams: “I am very pro growth, but I'm pro growth responsibly, and the way we do that is to ensure that our policies reflect the process in which we take. So what we have to do is be proactive about growing our city responsibly [in] the way we want. The way we do that is to make sure that the environment is one of the key factors that we're considering. Right now, just like we do a financial impact, we need to do environmental impacts as well.” 

Mike Woodward: “I think by implementing the Durham Zero Plan, which addresses some of the issues like going to electric bus and increasing the UC Bus Rapid Transit as a way to connect residents to transportation services better. I think the idea throughout about having the city use solar resources, as well, would all be good ideas.”

Leo Williams: "When I become mayor, one of the first things I'll be calling on is for block net, and then in general, knocking on doors, and you have to have the information to collect, put it in a database to actually be able to reach out to people . . . Getting kids engaged, we have to bring back humanity and engagement. I plan to do that. That's a very tangible action plan on top of the policies that I've already put in place.”

Mike Woodward: “So we are very limited with gun control by state law. I think our gun buyback program in Durham has actually been fairly successful. I'd like to do more of the gun buyback programs. I'd like to see if we can do things that will help us . . . limit ghost guns. And again, we talked about wraparound services, and working with our youth to try to get the guns out of the hands of our young people.” 

Leo Williams: “Gentrification is not bad, it's the displacement as a result of gentrification [that’s bad]. What we have to do is turn those projects into revitalization and allow us to incorporate the neighbors who are there as a part of the fabric that we're now sewing. You don't have to be pushed out because the value goes up.” 

Mike Woodward: “I think any of these programs that we have around housing, we need to go through looking with an equity lens. So when we are looking at re-zoning, for instance - are we zoning so that we help our lower wealth communities that have [a higher] proportion of black and brown folks and not favoring communities that are predominantly white? We were talking about making some down payment and rent assistance programs available as well, and looking at those through an equity lens.”

Durham City Council Candidates: Nate Baker and Khalila Karim

Nate Baker: “I have a Climate Action Plan. It's the Green New Deal for Durham; it's on my webpage that people can check out. We need a multi-jurisdictional Climate Action Plan. We need to hold summits so that we can collaborate with one another and also keep each other accountable. We need a metropolitan-wide, Triangle-wide Climate Action Plan. And we need to be bold and aggressive about it.”

Khalila Karim: “Right now we need to really be proactive with the tools that we have. The Inflation Reduction Act has billions to go out to states into cities. And we need to use those in any way possible. We need to really be sure that we're using all this funding and . . . making it transparent and accessible. Because right now, a lot of this funding goes straight to people, but they don't know that they can go get it.”


Nate Baker: “Of course, gun control and gun legislation is challenging at the local level. There's kind of two fronts here, what can we do to max out everything that we're allowed to do at the local level, [such as] gun buyback programs, treating the root causes of violence with the limited resources that we do have, and also organizing at the local level so that we can inspire folks statewide, so that we can actually win back the legislature in passing meaningful gun control and gun legislation. So we need to keep both of those fronts in mind as we move forward.”

Khalila Karim: “Gun control is a huge problem. I really wished the city council would have more control over it, but it isn't a city council thing. But what we can do is kind of start to fight against the root causes of that violence. And that means making sure that we do have mental health services available to people, making sure that we actually have jobs, because a lot of times poverty correlates with crime. So what we need to actually do is invest in our people.”

Nate Baker: “We have state-sponsored gentrification and displacement . . . but a lot of this is that the real estate industry in the free market is inherently racist, because we come from a history of racism in this country. We've lost over 1,000 residents per year over the past five years. The vast majority of those are black residents. We have a lot of really good tools to be able to prevent, or at least disincentivize, financial displacement. We're not using them and that's because of the power of the real estate industry at the state and local level. So we need local labor officials that will stand up to the real estate industry.”

Khalila Karim: “What we need to do is to make real investment into Black communities to build that equity there so they won't be pushed out, [and provide] education around what they have. That means keeping their homes and not selling them to developers for a cheap amount so they can flip it and make a profit and keep pushing people out.”