By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
La Mesa City Council candidate Allan Durden is “a big proponent” of the U.S. flag and as such he wants people of all races and political affiliations to fly it proudly.
“I call it a new flag – not because of the way it looks, but the meaning and what it represents,” he said.
“People have told me that Black Americans want to break the flag. That’s nonsense. We are the flag. You’re the flag no matter how you honor it — be it a salute, hand over your heart or taking a knee. The flag has got to stand for all of us. No one tells me how to honor my God, no one should tell me how to honor my flag — but honor it. I believe that.
“When one side uses the flag against another side, I think that’s absolutely terrible because you have one side that’s telling us you’re not a patriot and another side telling us you’re a racist that’s crazy,” he continued. “I think in La Mesa if we can just agree on that that may bring us a little closer together.”
Durden’s unity message for his campaign for a City Council seat — his first run for public office — is directly tied to his experience growing up Black in La Mesa.
Durden’s family moved from Houston to La Mesa in 1976. His father — a coach for the Houston Oilers — took a position with the San Diego Chargers.
The family chose moving to La Mesa over Kearney Mesa because Durden’s brother was a basketball player and wanted to go to Helix High where Bill Walton went. The family experience racism immediately.
“I didn’t know it at that time, I was 5 or 6 years old, they had a petition to get us out of Mt. Nebo,” Durden said. “We learned this 10 years after we moved here because we had a friend that lived next door.”
In addition to the racism by some of his neighbors, the Durden family also went through the tragedy of losing Durden’s older brother who was murdered by teenager trying to steal his phone.
“Even with all those things, we decided to stay [in La Mesa]. We wanted to stay,” he said. “I still live in the neighborhood today where I grew up.”
Durden attended Dale Elementary, La Mesa Junior High and then Helix High where he followed in his father’s footsteps and played football, eventually getting a scholarship to the University of Arizona, before bing drafted to play for the Detroit Lions in 1985.
At the University of Arizona, Durden’s football accolades included being named All Pac-10, All American, and was also inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame. Off the field, he earned a BA and a Charter Leadership Fellow Designation in financial services, which is the field of work he has been in since leaving pro football.
“My expertise includes team leadership, operations management, strategic management and I’ve partnered with a lot of corporate leaders and business owners helping them achieve their goals as well,” he said. “I’ve represented La Mesa as a student-athlete, a business leader and I look forward to representing [the city] as a City Council member.”
Racism and a run for office
Durden is a political newcomer who said “one particular incident” spurred him o run for City Council.
“I was down at the Vons shopping center the day after the riots and I was watching people clean up and kind of assisting here and there and a lady came up to me … and she asks me ‘Why are so many minorities moving into La Mesa?’” Durden shared. “I said, ‘Wow, OK. How long have you been a resident of La Mesa?’ She said, ‘I’ve been a proud resident for 25 years.’ And I said, ‘Wow, that’s great. Well I’ve been a resident of La Mesa for 45 years, does that mean you moved into my neighborhood?’ And she was appalled and kind of stomped off. That kind of made me think I got to do something about this.”
Other incidents followed. Durden and his wife — who is white — were recently profiled by people taking their pictures and writing down their license plate while driving home by “guys in yellow vests,” he said.
“Any one of these issues could have validated my family leaving, but we decided to stay. I keep on emphasizing that because I want people to know,” he said. “I grew up in La Mesa. My friends are here, I raised my family here and all I know is we got to get better together. This is ridiculous.”
Durden blames the profiling on outside agitators coming into the city he doesn’t see racism in La Mesa getting any worse from when he was young and his neighbors tried to petition for his family to move.
“Where I live it’s becoming more diverse,” he said. “I just think we need to turn that corner and have a council that is representative of the community.”
Durden describes himself as “totally liberal” but points out that he has many conservative friends.
“I love my friends. We can have an argument, have a discussion, but we can also have a beer,” he said.
Policing in La Mesa
Durden does not harbor a lot of criticism for La Mesa Police and pointed out that the city has an excellent safety record — ranked 66th in the state for safety.
“So police in La Mesa have not done a bad job. I think our crime rate is really low and our violent crime rate is even lower,” he said.
In looking for a new chief to replace outgoing Chief Walt Vasquez, Durden said the city should look for experience.
“But I don’t think we want a big city police chief,” he added. “I think we need a police chief who will listen to the people, listen to the recommendations of the oversight commission, that will work with the people.”
Durden said he is not an ardent proponent of defunding police outright, but he did suggest that the new chief should “maybe” look at directing some of the department’s budget funds to other agencies to relieve officers from some of their duties.
“They wear hats for psychology. They wear homeless hats. They got mental health hats. They’re just not trained for that,” he said. “So if we can just allocate some of that money to get them some help, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Durden said he supports the city’s move to open sidewalks to help businesses to help them stay operating during the pandemic. He is also in favor of mask mandates.
When it comes to where the city should spend money to deal with economic fallout from the coronavirus, Durden favors increased funds for social services like providing meals to children while they are not in school.
“It’s going to be difficult. The business owners definitely need their money because we need business owners to thrive, but we have some community people that need money to live. So that balance is going to very difficult,” he said.
Helping La Mesa’s most vulnerable is also a priority for Durden when it comes to housing policy.
“I am a person that believes in affordable housing,” he said. “I believe we have spaces in La Mesa where we can build affordable housing — whether it be close to the trolley on Amaya, or close to the trolley on Spring Street. I don’t know how affordable it would be to build Downtown. That is not affordable. I don’t want a huge Downtown. I want the Village vintage, keep it the way it is. I want it to grow but I don’t want it to grow up.”
Durden’s idea of growing the Village is to build up all the commerce areas in La Mesa and consider them all part of the “Village” — not just the area around La Mesa Boulevard and Spring Street.
“Other than that, I have no agendas other than to keep the city safe,” he added.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.