What makes a candidate a winner? Is it incumbent status or donations? Or maybe voters feel they can trust a prominent voice in a community that knows the candidate well before they were a candidate.
Nate Baker, a candidate new to politics with a background in urban planning, surpassed competition in the primaries. He received the highest percentage of votes in the 2023 Durham City Council election– with a grassroots campaign and unpaid volunteers.
Baker has also rejected campaign donations from real estate developers and has promised to hold developers accountable in creating more environmentally sustainable infrastructure and construction in undeveloped sectors of Durham.
Kaiya Taylor, Baker’s campaign manager, said that she believes his success can be contributed to his campaign focusing on reaching those who may feel discouraged to vote.
“We’ve been able to reach out to a lot more people that maybe typically don’t vote in a municipal election,” she said.
Taylor believes Bakers’s hands-on approach to campaigning is what many feel has led to the formation of his large coalition of voters. According to Taylor, his canvassing and personal involvement with the community has gained him support.
“I haven’t seen a candidate canvas as hard as he has,” she said.
His grassroots campaign has relied on these methods, as he had many people eagerly want to help his campaign despite having to work as unpaid volunteers.
Taylor said that other candidates have had paid workers and have received the benefit of outside money infrastructures supporting them.
“I think a lot of people want something new in council and want someone who was grassroots and has the integrity to refuse developer money and we haven’t seen that before until this race,” she said, “I think a lot of people feel a little bit more hopeful and want to be a part of seeing that change happen.”
One group Baker’s hands-on approach has benefitted is the City Workers Union, a group that has received attention following strikes of sanitation workers for higher wages. Baker attended a Durham City Workers’ protest in regards to the fight for higher wages.
Willie Brown, public works employee, said that the Union chose Baker because his agenda is congruent with the interests of city workers. He also said that these workers are not solely sanitation workers, but that this also includes police, fire, public works, general works and management departments.
“He is in our wheelhouse,” he said, “We’re working together.”
Brown also said that while the city workers cannot collectively bargain, they are working to establish a Worker’s Bill of Rights as well as a board for city employees so they can sit in on policy decisions regarding city workers.
He said that Baker has expressed interest in addressing these concerns of the Union, and that all workers receive fair wages.
“He is interested in the politics of Durham, and he’s also interested in the City Workers plot, so that’s the reason we endorse Nate Baker,” he said.
Following the strikes, Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal granted $6.5 million in bonuses to city workers on Oct. 5. For workers who make less than $42,480, they will receive a $5,000 bonus and workers who make more than this amount will recieve less.
Brown said that the Union and Baker are working to ensure that all city workers receive the $5,000 bonus.
Mayor O’Neal said that she would like to add an additional $1.2 million in order to award workers earning under $75,000 the $5,000 bonus as well.
Following the grant and primary on Oct. 10, Mayor O’Neal endorsed Baker in the City Council election, as well as Mike Woodard for mayor.