Q&A: Brenda Howerton discusses her campaign for fifth term on the Durham County Board of Commissioners

Photo via INDY Week (https://indyweek.com)

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

By Eilah Wood

Voters can visit the polls to vote for the 11 members running for the five Durham County Board of Commissioners seats during the primary election on March 5. 

Hon. Brenda Howerton became a member of the Durham County Board of Commissioners in 2008 and is pursuing a fifth term. She served as the Chairperson for the previous term and was the Vice Chair between 2012 and 2016. 

Howerton graduated magna cum laude from Shaw University with a degree in business management. She was also one of the first to graduate from the Advanced Leadership Corps through the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 

She was the first local politician from Durham to be elected to a state authority role as the President for the North Carolina Association of Counties in 2016. Howerton also serves as a member of the Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) through the EPA to provide sustainable policy for local governments. 

Howerton lost her oldest son to gun violence in 1993, and her 19-year-old son was shot and killed a year later by two police officers in Greensboro.

The Durham VOICE’s Eilah Wood sat down with Howerton to discuss policy and platform questions concerning her current campaign. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Durham VOICE: What issues are at the forefront of your campaign? How do you set yourself apart from the other ten candidates?

Brenda Howerton: Housing, transportation, and education primarily

With my experience, I can hit the ground running and there is much to do. I will be able to continue work on those initiatives I have already championed without the need to be brought up to speed. I have the unique ability to pull together stakeholders from many different sectors to work together to achieve a common goal with professionalism and in the best interest of Durham. I put Durham first in all I do as commissioner.

Who or what inspired you to run for office initially? How do you stay encouraged as a longtime politician?

Experiencing the loss of 2 of my sons to gun violence. Managing the grief was tough, but it also made me resilient. I felt I could no longer stand on the sidelines while this happens to another family. I decided to get involved with serving my community in hopes to keep this from happening again. I share my story with others so they understand that we are connected in this, and that I am serious about tackling this issue.

I remain encouraged because of my faith. God strengthens me whenever things get tough and seem impossible. God shows me it is possible. I also have my family and a core group of supporters who stand behind me pushing me onward. My desire to make Durham better for all also keeps me in the fight.

How do you see your legacy as a Durham County Commissioner? What would you do differently?

I will not be kept silent. I am a voice for Durham County. Whenever there is an issue and something to be done, the community could count on me to speak on it and get things done. I have never served to be liked or admired, but to help Durham County residents have the best life here that is possible.

I would talk publicly about things I have accomplished for Durham more. I am so focused on doing the work, making the decisions, and implementing processes to improve Durham that I often forget to inform residents what I have gotten done. All the residents know is they have the improvement but not how it got there. I could have done better at letting them know, and also with bringing younger residents into the fold to continue the legacy of serving the community.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected to another term? What still needs to be done?

Continue the critical work towards more affordable housing for all in Durham County. Also, strengthen relationships with Durham Public Schools and its teachers through collaboration and negotiation, making sure the budget reflects our commitment to our schools. We also must continue our efforts to rid our drinking water of harmful chemicals and continue recycling efforts to protect and improve our environment.

How do you hope to tackle major issues like the DPS budget crisis in this upcoming term?

Given that we have not received a request from DPS and the Board, we do not know what they’re going to ask for yet. So we cannot move until we know. We will have the County Manager and Superintendent get together and nail down what they need, look at the budget and negotiate. There is a process that must be followed to maintain our fiduciary responsibility for the County.

What inspired you to join the EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee? Why are environmental issues something that the people of Durham should be concerned about?

I was appointed to the Committee by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, Michael Regan, because he was looking for someone willing to do the work. He was told I am a tireless worker who relentlessly pursues answers and solutions and that is what he needed.  Environmental issues directly impact healthcare, education, business development, and many other aspects of Durham County. If we do not have clean drinking water, of course that leads to increases in health issues such as cancer and other diseases. A healthy environment can impact a student’s ability to learn and will also attract more business to enhance our tax base which is better for us all.

How have the gun incidents that have plagued your family since the 1990s affected your role as a politician? 

It has been the driving force behind everything I do for Durham County.  

What is one thing you hope voters and the people of Durham remember about you?

That I was a fighter. That I never became Commissioner for clout or praise. That I did everything I could to bring about the BEST Durham for all. That I embodied the title given to me, the People’s Commissioner.