Wednesday News: Durham bullish on affordable housing

MAYOR STEVE SCHEWEL AND $95 MILLION HOUSING BOND FAVORED BY SUPERMAJORITY: Durham Mayor Steve Schewel easily won election to a second term Tuesday, and voters also overwhelmingly approved the city issuing $95 million in bonds to help create more affordable housing. With all precincts reporting, Schewel outdistanced Sylvester Williams, a minister making his fourth run for Durham mayor, by an 83 to 16 percent margin, according to unofficial results. Affordable housing was one of Schewel's top priorities in the campaign, and the bond referendum was approved by a 76 to 24 percent margin. City Council members Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece and Javiera Caballero all won re-election in a six-person race for three at-large council seats.

SHERIFFS' ASSOCIATION DOESN'T WANT GRANT PUSHED BY FORMER MOORE AIDE: State lawmakers gave the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association $500,000 last year to help find ways to keep better tabs on sex offenders, such as tracking their cars and where they work. It was money neither the association nor the State Bureau of Investigation, which manages the statewide sex offender registry, had asked for. The money’s inclusion in the state budget was driven by an influential lobbyist for a software company seeking the state’s sex offender tracking business. The state gave the money as a one-time expense, but the bidders for the business gave proposals that would require a recurring stream of money. Those bidders included Permitium, whose parent company ScribSoft Holdings hired lobbyist Andy Munn, a former top aide to House Speaker Tim Moore. Munn persuaded Rep. Allen McNeill, a former chief deputy for Randolph County’s sheriff’s office, to add the $500,000 allotment to the budget.

CHAR-MECK ARTS BOND VOTED DOWN AT THE POLLS: The Charlotte Arts and Sciences Council President said it was obvious early on that the tax hike was in trouble. "When we saw the early voting results come in we were hopeful that when we saw some precincts come in we'd see stronger results," said R. Jeep Bryant. By 10 p.m., advocates for the tax referendum conceded defeat after the gap grew to more than 10,000 votes. If passed the sales tax would have jumped from its current 7.25% to 7.5%. The Mecklenburg County government website said the proposed tax hike would have been divided between cultural and educational programs: 45% for arts and culture, 34% for county parks and greenways, 16% for education and 5% for arts and culture/parks for the towns. Those who opposed the tax hike said too much money would go to teachers and the arts while taking away from other needs, such as affordable housing.

DEMOCRATS FLIP BOTH HOUSES OF VIRGINIA LEGISLATURE: Republicans awoke Wednesday to a stark new political reality in Virginia after losing majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, a sweeping defeat that solidifies Democratic control over the state capital for the first time in a generation. Depleted by President Trump’s floundering approval rating in Virginia, the Republicans’ defeat was a new low for a party that has not won a statewide race since Bob McDonnell became governor in 2009. “If you didn’t see this coming, you’ve been living under a rock,” said Dan Scandling, who was chief of staff to former congressman Frank Wolf (R-Virginia). “Virginia has been trending this way for years. Being so close to Washington — and add in the anti-Trump phenomenon — it was only a matter of time.” With Democrats already controlling the governor's mansion, the state’s two U.S. Senate seats, and a majority of its congressional seats, Republicans are bracing for policy changes in Richmond and the specter of Democrats redrawing legislative districts after the 2020 Census that could undermine GOP incumbents from the state house to Congress.

SONDLAND FESSES UP ON EARLIER TESTIMONY; UKRAINE QUID-PRO-QUO DID HAPPEN: A crucial witness in the impeachment inquiry reversed himself this week and acknowledged to investigators that he had told a top Ukrainian official that the country would most likely have to give President Trump what he wanted — a public pledge for investigations — in order to unlock military aid. The disclosure from Gordon D. Sondland, an ally of Mr. Trump who is the United States ambassador to the European Union, confirmed his role in laying out a quid pro quo to Ukraine that conditioned the release of security assistance from the United States on the country’s willingness to say it was investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats. That admission, included in a four-page sworn statement released on Tuesday, directly contradicted his testimony to investigators last month, when he said he “never” thought there was any precondition on the aid. Mr. Sondland’s disclosure appeared intended to insulate him from accusations that he intentionally misled Congress during his earlier testimony, in which he frequently said he could not recall key details and events under scrutiny by impeachment investigators.