City’s down­town has few black-owned busi­nesses

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Triangle & N.c. - BY DAWN BAUMGARTNER VAUGHAN AND CARLI BROSSEAU dvaughan@new­sob­ cbrosseau@new­sob­

Demo­cratic bil­lion­aire Tom Steyer has drawn the ire of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who called Steyer “a lu­natic” last week­end.

Asked about about the jibe, Steyer chuck­les.

“I have two older brothers and they have said meaner things to me,” Steyer dur­ing a stop Tues­day at Sir Wal­ter Cof­fee in down­town Raleigh.

More se­ri­ous than words was the pipe bomb tar­geted for him that was in­ter­cepted by of­fi­cials last week. He wants to make sure that none of his fam­ily or staff get hurt.

Steyer, a 61-year old re­tired hedge fund man­ager, phi­lan­thropist, and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, should be used to the rough and tum­ble of the cam­paign trail by now – es­pe­cially in to­day’s ultra-po­lar­ized en­vi­ron­ment.

Steyer has been criss­cross­ing the coun­try for his two groups – Nex­tGen Amer­ica, which is or­ga­niz­ing to reg­is­ter and turn out vot­ers in the midterm elec­tions, and Need to Im­peach, which is seek­ing to build sup­port for Trump’s im­peach­ment.

He has spent more than $120 mil­lion this elec­tion cy­cle – the most of any Demo­crat – and said he has signed up 6 mil­lion peo­ple to his or­ga­ni­za­tion. An At­lantic magazine ar­ti­cle pub­lished ear­lier this month said he had “more reach’’ than the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

While he may not be as well known as other po­lit­i­cally ac­tive bil­lion­aires such as the Koch Brothers, Michael Bloomberg, Ge­orge Soros, or Shel­don Adelson, there are few big­ger play­ers in na­tional pol­i­tics to­day.

He is hop­ing to have an ef­fect on Tues­day’s elec­tions by in­creas­ing Demo­cratic voter turnout dur­ing a midterm elec­tion when tra­di­tion­ally there has been a large dropoff of vot­ers.

He has put to­gether a large na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion de­signed to turn out vot­ers. Mon­day night in Greens­boro, he held the last of his 32 town halls in a meet­ing that drew 250 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing his cam­paign staff.

Has he had an im­pact? “We will know more in a week,” Steyer said. “But we have seen on an anec­do­tal ba­sis in North Carolina, early vot­ing has been very ro­bust.”

The his­toric North Carolina Mu­tual Life In­sur­ance build­ing on Par­rish Street was the cen­ter of down­town Durham’s his­toric Black Wall Street. Founded 120 years ago by the city’s African Amer­i­can lead­ers, it was a sym­bol of black eco­nomic pros­per­ity and where W.E.B. DuBois vis­ited be­fore writ­ing his es­say about “Up­build­ing Black Durham” in the early 20th cen­tury.

The build­ing looks much like it did a cen­tury ago, but the rest of down­town Durham looks much dif­fer­ent.

The In­sti­tute, pre­vi­ously The In­sti­tute of Mi­nor­ity Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment, owns the build­ing now. It bought it from Me­chan­ics & Farm­ers Bank, an­other African Amer­i­can his­toric pow­er­house, in 2000. M&F, which is the sec­on­dold­est mi­nor­ity-owned bank in the U.S., leases ground floor space.

Farad Ali is CEO of the In­sti­tute. From his of­fices on the sixth floor, win­dows look out on down­town of 2018. City Hall out one win­dow. The for­mer Jack Tar Ho­tel, which is now Un­scripted, out an­other. And fac­ing Par­rish Street, the city’s new sky­scraper, One City Cen­ter.

“We own the his­tory. We own the build­ing,” said Ali. “The in­tent was to keep it mi­nor­i­ty­owned.”

He said he’s “blessed and hon­ored to be the leader of an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has the spirit of Black Wall Street.”

Con­struc­tion cranes have pep­pered the city sky­line in the past few years since re­vi­tal­iza­tion took hold. But some are con­cerned that the pros­per­ity of new Durham is not shared by ev­ery­one or re­flec­tive of the city’s legacy, es­pe­cially Black Wall Street. It is not re­flec­tive of the city’s pop­u­la­tion, ei­ther. Durham is 40 per­cent African Amer­i­can.

This past sum­mer, City Coun­cil mem­ber MarkAn­thony Mid­dle­ton hosted a fo­rum at his church about the new Black Wall Street, which Mid­dle­ton wants to be on every cor­ner in Durham, not just Par­rish Street down­town.

But less than 4 per­cent of busi­nesses down­town — and across Durham — are mi­nor­ity-owned, Ali said. And right now, there isn’t a big plan to change it. Not from the city, any­way.

But other down­town play­ers have ideas and projects in the works.


New York City Parks Com­mis­sioner Mitchell Sil­ver is the for­mer chief plan­ner of Raleigh, and plans to re­tire there. But since he left, what he’s hear­ing about Durham is dif­fer­ent than Raleigh.

“I’m hear­ing great things about Durham — more so than Raleigh the past few years — be­cause Durham is be­com­ing the ‘it’ city,” he said.

More than 20 peo­ple are mov­ing to Durham every day, and the city is grap­pling with how to deal with that growth. County taxes in­creased this year, but city taxes didn’t be­cause of all the tax in­come from new devel­op­ment, pri­mar­ily down­town.

Sil­ver thinks there is very lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and


Carl Webb, devel­oper

While in Raleigh Tues­day he planned to visit the lo­cal food bank and meet with Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

In North Carolina, his or­ga­ni­za­tion has con­cen­trated its ef­forts in turn­ing out vot­ers in the Char­lotte-cen­tric 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict where Repub­li­can Mark Har­ris is fac­ing Demo­crat Dan McCready; and in the Triad-based 13th dis­trict where Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Ted Budd is be­ing chal­lenged by Demo­crat Kathy Man­ning.

They have 38 full- or part-time staffers help­ing or­ga­nize the state and have been work­ing on 25 col­lege cam­puses, Steyer said. The or­ga­ni­za­tion claims it has reg­is­tered 6,000 new vot­ers in the state.

Steyer calls it “the largest youth voter mo­bi­liza­tion in Amer­i­can his­tory” – based on the staff, vol­un­teers and bud­get.

“We are a grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion try­ing to spread broader democ­racy in Amer­ica so more peo­ple get to vote, so more peo­ple get in­cluded, so peo­ple can’t be ig­nored, so we get a fairer process,” he said. “That’s what we do.”

The town halls, Steyer said, were not about Trump-bash­ing, but fo­cused dis­cus­sions on is­sues that worry peo­ple – most promi­nently the cost of col­lege, health care, racial jus­tice, and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Ob­vi­ously this is a huge ref­er­en­dum on this ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Steyer said of next Tues­day’s elec­tion. “But I think it is much more than that … We don’t go on an anti-Trump screed. We talk to young peo­ple and ask them what they care about.”

While many Democrats wel­come Steyer’s or­ga­ni­za­tional heft, they have been wary of his cam­paign to im­peach Pres­i­dent Trump, fear­ful that it could back­fire by revving up Repub­li­can vot­ers.

Adelson, a Las Ve­gas casino owner and a ma­jor Trump backer, re­cently be­gan run­ning ads warn­ing that a vote for a Demo­crat is a vote to im­peach the pres­i­dent. Even Steyer’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Con­gress, House Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi, dis­agrees with him.

But Steyer views Trump as a dan­ger to the Con­sti­tu­tion and the coun­try, and he has put to­gether a team of 54 con­sti­tu­tional lawyers who have laid out 10 pos­si­ble im­peach­able of­fenses that in­clude ob­struc­tion of jus­tice, ac­cept­ing fees from for­eign gov­ern­ments, ad­vo­cat­ing vi­o­lence and con­spir­ing to com­mit crimes against the United States with Rus­sia.

“He is a ha­bit­ual and reck­less law­breaker who is putting the safety and health of the Amer­i­can peo­ple at risk,” Steyer said in an in­ter­view. “It is ur­gent to get him out of of­fice be­fore he de­stroys the coun­try.”

Last week, Steyer’s group be­gan run­ning a Face­book ad com­par­ing Trump with such dic­ta­tors as Sad­dam Hus­sein of Iraq, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, say­ing they have the same “ma­lig­nant nar­cis­sism.” “Dic­ta­tors have man­aged to come to power in every part of the world, and many of them rise out of democ­racy,” says the ad’s nar­ra­tor, first re­ported by The Daily Caller.

The Demo­cratic prospects of ac­tu­ally push­ing through im­peach­ment are close to nil. Many ob­servers think the Democrats have a chance to win the House, but few think they will win the Se­nate. It would likely re­quire 57 Se­nate votes to im­peach – a prospect that could only oc­cur if a broad swath of Repub­li­cans aban­doned a pres­i­dent whom polls sug­gest is highly pop­u­lar among GOP vot­ers.

But Steyer says that is no rea­son to back off. He said he has spent no time lob­by­ing in Con­gress for im­peach­ment or think­ing about leg­isla­tive strat­egy. This is about gal­va­niz­ing pub­lic opin­ion, he said.

He knows that some Democrats think this is tac­ti­cally not smart. “But we are say­ing, ‘no, no. We are stand­ing up for the Con­sti­tu­tion and the Amer­i­can peo­ple’.”

Every­where he goes, he is asked about whether he is in­ter­ested in run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2020. And his stan­dard re­ply, which he gave again Tues­day, is that he won’t de­cide un­til after the midterm elec­tions where he can do the most good.

But after watch­ing Steyer on CNN Sun­day, Trump had a pre­dic­tion. “As bad as their field is,” the pres­i­dent tweeted, “if he was run­ning for Pres­i­dent, the Dems will eat him alive.”

JU­LIA WALL jwall@new­sob­

NC Mu­tual’s sec­ond down­town build­ing is an in­te­gral part of the Durham sky­line. The build­ing is a land­mark and a his­toric re­minder of black eco­nomic power. It was sold sev­eral years ago and is now called the Tower at Mu­tual Plaza, but about 50 em­ploy­ees of NC Mu­tual still work there.

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