Sylvester Williams’ Optimism and Concerns Ahead of Durham’s Mayoral Election

Sylvester Williams, 68, is running for the mayor of Durham. Photo by Kendall Chavis

Sylvester Williams is one of eight candidates running for mayor of Durham in the upcoming municipal elections scheduled for this November. Williams has previously run for mayor in 2011, 2013 and 2017. 

Williams was born and raised in Durham, except for the time he went to school in Atlanta. He is currently the pastor of Christian Assembly Church.

Throughout his life, Williams said he has been actively involved in multiple organizations in Durham including serving as the chair for economic development for Durham Business and Professional Chain and the vice-chair of economic development for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. 

Williams said the main reason he is running for mayor is because of his background in finance and economic development. He claims his educational background helps him understand complicated parts of Durham’s economy. 

“I saw that there are things that are happening in the city of Durham that the average person is not aware of,” he said. 

Williams said a big issue he cares about is redlining, which is pushing many Black people out of the city. 

Redlining is the practice of withholding services from neighborhoods or areas designated as hazardous to investment. These neighborhoods typically have high populations of low-income residents or minority groups.   

According to Williams, the black population in Durham has gone down from 37% to 33%. He said this is because many Black people are offered high-interest rates on loans to buy a house and decide to rent instead. Now that Durham is growing, many renters are being forced out of their homes, he said. 

“The reason why I’m running is to expose some of these things that are happening and to make sure that in the city of Durham everyone’s being treated fairly and equally,” he said. 

The housing crisis in Durham is another issue Williams wants to address if elected mayor. Williams has already contacted the head of the Durham Housing Authority to create a partnership between the DHA and his church. William’s said his church owns six acres of land, and would like to provide housing for low-income residents and the elderly. 

This will be the fourth time Williams has run for mayor since 2011, but his agenda and platform remains unchanged. 

“My agenda is the same – to speak the truth and to let people know what’s happening in the city of Durham,” he said.

Williams feels optimistic going into this year’s election, but is concerned about voter turnout. 

“People do not take into consideration or do not give as much time and attention to local elections as they do national elections,” he said. “Local elections affect you more than national elections.”

To gather more voter support, he said that he is partnering with local churches in the city because their congregations will understand whatand support the policy he is advocating for.  

During his previous run for mayor, Williams was questioned by the public for opposing LGBTQ+ rights, according to an article published by INDY Week. 

Williams said that LGBTQ+ individuals have a many mental health challenges as well as high rates of drug abuse and sexual abuse. He emphasized the need for elected officials to address and raise awareness about these issues, rather than overlooking them.

“There is a mental trauma in their lives, and people are willing to look the other way, rather than help them to address those issues that they’re having,” Williams said. 

Williams also expressed concern that elected officials encouraging gender fluidity is “further confusing” LGBTQ+ individuals into believing “they are something they are not.” This is why people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community are involved with drugs and have a high suicide rate, according to Williams. 

He said that if elected, he feels strongly that he will get the support he needs from city council members on this issue, based on the private conversations he’s had with council members.  

The primary election for the city of Durham municipal elections will be held on Oct. 8. There are 59 polling locations for voters including local churches, schools and government buildings, according to the Durham County Board of Elections.

Story Edited By: Mia Guthrie and Isabella Geskos