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Victoria Peterson files to run for City Council

BY BEN EVANS : The Herald-Sun
Jul 7, 2003: 10:44 pm ET

DURHAM -- Warren Herndon and Victoria Peterson, two veterans of the Bull City political scene who have lost previous bids for elected office, launched campaigns for City Council on Monday, the opening day of the filing period.

Also Monday, a little-known potential challenger for Mayor Bill Bell emerged as Carolina James-Rivera, a cosmetologist who has never run for office, filed for mayor.

Peterson, an activist and City Hall gadfly, has been involved in a number of causes for at least a decade.

A black conservative, Peterson last year helped organize a group called Christians for Morality in Government, which was formed partly in response to the City Council's decision to extend health and other benefits to employees' same-sex partners. The group also called for City Manager Marcia Conner to be fired over her improper granting of city contracts to former colleagues.

Peterson, 49, who lost a 1992 bid for a state House seat, has been an active supporter of accused murderer Michael Peterson and helped organize a vigil for him outside the jail after his arrest in December 2001. She has regularly attended the ongoing trial and even was questioned in May about talking with a prospective juror in a courthouse hallway. She is not related to Michael Peterson.

Over the years, Peterson's activism has touched on a wide variety of issues.

She's protested the high numbers of young black men in Durham's jail, lobbied for better conditions in public housing projects, argued for pistol permits to be cheaper, and objected to gay and lesbian films being shown at the Carolina Theatre.

In 1992, after losing her legislative campaign, she asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into voting-machine problems. The election subsequently was upheld by the state elections board.

Three years later, as part of a group called Education First, she sued the Durham Public Schools over its use of race as a guideline in its student assignment policy. And in 1999, she attempted to file criminal charges against a Chapel Hill doctor who she said illegally tested her for HIV without her consent. A judge later dismissed the charges.

She said Monday that as a council member she would focus on luring economic development, including in poor areas of town; creating vocational education opportunities; improving rehabilitation programs for nonviolent jail inmates; and working with the police department to cut crime.

"I really am very, very tired of the condition of how the city looks and the serious crime problem that we have in the city ? particularly in the African-American areas," she said, adding that she believes the problems stem from a lack of economic opportunities for poor people.

Herndon, 50, has long been active in Durham politics and civic affairs. He could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

A former director of community relations at Duke University Medical Center, he is a veteran member and former chairman of the city's Human Relations Commission and in 1995 was awarded the Baha'is of Durham Louis Gregory Award for racial unity.

He ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Board of County Commissioners in 2002, placing seventh despite receiving endorsements from influential political groups such as the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the People's Alliance.

James-Rivera, 42, said she wants to get involved in government to help reduce crime and taxes, and to improve opportunities for young people.

"As a citizen here in Durham I really got kind of personal with the city and with the youth problem and the crime and the raising of the taxes," she said. "I've been at City Hall lots of times and it seems like people just aren't listening to the citizens. It seems like you just don't have any rights."

On several occasions, James-Rivera has pleaded emotionally with the City Council to investigate the county social services department in a dispute involving her daughter and her ex-husband.

She said that if elected she would seek help for the Durham Police Department from the military. She also said she would seek to improve public schools, although city government has little involvement in the funding or operation of the Durham Public Schools.

The mayor's seat, held by Bill Bell, and three at-large council seats -- held by Thomas Stith, Tamra Edwards and Lewis Cheek -- are open in the Nov. 4 election.

©Copyright 2003, The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC, USA)

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