As of Dec. 4, more than half of the Durham City Council will be new, as voters this week voted in newcomers in three ward races and a current council member to the mayor’s seat.
City Council member Steve Schewel defeated Farad Ali to be the next mayor of Durham. He will be the city’s first new mayor in 16 years, as retiring Mayor Bill Bell has served since 2001.
The only incumbent on the ballot, Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, was defeated in Ward 1. None of the newcomers had previously held elected office.
Schewel said it will be a challenge to get everyone up to speed.
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“We are losing some amazingly experienced people and that experience is meaningful,” Schewel said.
The mayor’s race
Schewel received 21,262 votes, or 59.5 percent of the vote, while his opponent and former council member Farad Ali came in with 14,334 votes, or 40.1 percent.
“It feels great, I am excited,” Schewel said. “I feel a weight of responsibility that I have to do a great job for everyone, and not just my supporters.”
In his concession speech, Ali thanked his supporters.
“While it did not work, I still had so much faith and works with the pastors and prayer groups, the mayor, the Committee on the Affairs of Black People, I think this is something we can all be proud of,” Ali said.
Schewel watched early returns with campaign supporters at Pompieri Pizza across from Durham City Hall. Bell stopped by, as did incumbent holdover City Council members Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson.
Also at the restaurant with Schewel was former mayoral candidate Shea Ramirez, who was eliminated in the primary. She said she became friends with Schewel during the primary campaign season.
“I like what he stands for. He’ll be very good for the city. He’s good people,” Ramirez said about Schewel.
Bell went by Schewel’s party at Schewel’s invitation, then on to Ali’s party because he endorsed Ali.
Ali watched returns at Golden Belt, where the slate of candidates endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People gathered Tuesday night.
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Ward 1 City Council
Incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden was defeated by DeDreana Freeman, who serves on the Durham Planning Commission. Freeman received 54.5 percent, or 18,856 votes, with Cole-McFadden getting 45.4 percent, or 15,725 votes.
Freeman, who was endorsed by the People’s Alliance PAC, said that the PA “is moving in the direction to make the city stronger and better together.”
Cole-McFadden, who has held the seat for 16 years, called it a loss for the city of Durham. “It’s a blessing when I exit, I will exit with the greatest mayor who ever served Durham,” she said in her concession speech, referring to Bell.
Ward 2 City Council
Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton, a former clergy caucus leader in Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN), defeated John Rooks Jr. for the Ward 2 council seat.
Middleton received 57.0 percent, or 19,148 votes, beating Rooks’ 42.7 percent, or 14,339 votes.
“This is a watershed election for Durham, with the change in leadership,” Middleton said. “I’m just happy to be part of the conversation and I’m ready to get started.”
Ward 3 City Council
Vernetta Alston defeated Shelia Ann Huggins for the Ward 3 seat. Incumbent City Council member Don Moffitt did not make it through the primary to the general election.
Alston received 62.4 percent, or 21,209 votes. Huggins received 37.2 percent, or 12,657 votes.
“I think that this campaign and this election cycle has forced us all to reckon with who we are as progressives, to redefine ourselves,” Alston said.
Schewel, Freeman, Middleton and Alston will be sworn in during the Tuesday, Dec. 4 Durham City Council meeting. Bell said he would be there to see in the new council members. Once the new council members take office, they will begin the process of taking applications to fill the at-large seat on the council that Schewel will vacate. That term ends in 2019 and will be appointed by the council from a pool of applicants.
Catherine York contributed to this story.