Leonardo Williams leads mayoral votes with a personal connection to Durham

Leonardo Williams came out of the primaries on Oct. 10 with 52 percent of the Durham vote for mayor. This was a 22 percent lead from the next closest candidate and his opponent for mayor, State Sen. Mike Woodard. 

Williams said that this large percentage of the vote affirmed that people were listening to what he had to say. 

“The message that I’m bringing and the spirit of hope that I’m bringing matters to a lot of people,” Williams said. 

He also said that his strong lead ahead of the other seven candidates demonstrates a lot about his character.  

“I don’t think it was about the platform; I think it was about the person,” Williams said.

However, Williams was not shy to share what platform he is running on and why he thinks it matters to Durham. 

According to the mayoral candidate, Durham has faced the same issues for decades, and he wants to take a holistic approach to them. 

Two of the main issues he wants to pursue are housing affordability and transportation. He said the City needs to increase the housing supply and have an adequate transportation system that can get people around safely, efficiently and climate-consciously. 

He said that after these are addressed, he can focus on improving other issues, like unemployment, gun violence and crime. 

“When you start to get those things [housing and transportation] working together in harmony, you start to see less things, such as gun violence,” he said. 

Changes in these policies, he said, will come from the City Council budget and the Unified Development Ordinance, which “lays out the rules for the physical development of property.” 

One example of his policy implementation with the budget during his time on the City Council was been putting together a task force to study the status of Black and Brown boys in Durham, who he said are the most involved in criminal activity. He said he was also able to start getting funding for an apprenticeship program and plans to continue working on these efforts if he becomes mayor. 

Another pressing issue he said he would address as mayor is relationships within the City Council. He said that the key to dispelling dysfunction in the Council is through communication. 

“I’ll be meeting on a bi-weekly basis with every council member, making sure everyone’s ideas and engagement has been heard and appreciated,” Williams said. 

Building these relationships in the Council is one aspect of the job Williams said he feels uniquely able to do, not only as a current Council member but as someone who has the “ability to work with everyone.” 

His current connection to the City Council is one difference between Williams and his mayoral opponent Woodard, a Senator in the North Carolina General Assembly. 

Another difference he said they have is in their connection to Durham. 

Williams went to North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., and has worked as an educator and entrepreneur in Durham since. He also emphasized that as a Black man, he believes he can better connect to Durham issues than Woodard.

“A lot of Durham problems that we are experiencing right now, they are personal, lived experiences to me,” he said. 

Let it be stated though that Charleston-born Woodard isn’t completely lacking in Durham experience. He graduated from Duke University in 1981 and has worked at the University since 1996. Woodard has also served on the Durham City Council in the past and on the N.C. Senate since 2013. 

The two candidates will face off for mayor in the 2023 Durham Municipal Elections on Nov. 7.

Edited by Olivia Dela Cruz, Siya Zhang, and Annie Le Baron

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