Durham city council member gears up for General Assembly run

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Durham city council member Vernetta Alston is gearing up a campaign for the General Assembly.

On Tuesday, Alston filed to run for the District 29 seat in the House of Representatives.

A native of Durham who grew up in Cary, Alston has worked as a staff attorney with N.C. Prisoner Legal Services and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

She’ll be vying for the seat left vacant by Mary Ann Black, who was appointed to the position in 2017 after Governor Roy Cooper made longtime state Representative Larry Hall the state’s secretary of military of veterans affairs.

In May, Black announced her candidacy for the District 20 state senate seat that became open when longtime legislator Floyd McKissick was appointed to the state’s public utilities commission.

Black will face former Durham mayoral candidate Pierce Freelon and Natalie Murdock, a supervisor with the county soil and water conservation district.

Alston is described as a steely, reserved, tough-minded defense attorney who won a first term to the city council in 2017 by beating out attorney Sheila Huggins.

Earlier that year, she was part of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation defense team that won a life sentence for Nathan Holden in Wake County —the eighth capital case in a row in which a Wake County jury chose life without parole over a death sentence. She also served as the co-counsel for Henry McCollum, who was exonerated after 30 years in prison.

On the city council, Alston has supported a high-profile $95 million affordable housing bond that is — the largest in the state’s history.

Alston will appear on the March primary ballot. Given the partisan composition of District 29 in Durham — which Black won 88–12 in 2018, and which didn’t change in the recent redistricting — whoever wins the Democratic primary is all but guaranteed to win in November.

To date, Alston is the only candidate — Democrat, Republican, or third party— to file for that seat.

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