City Council member Steve Schewel and former council member Farad Ali will compete to be Durham’s next mayor in the Nov. 7 general election.
Schewel finished first in Tuesday’s primary with 12,934 votes or 51.2 percent of the total ballots cast. Ali had 7,359 votes, or 29.1 percent.
Pierce Freelon, Blackspace digital maker space founder and frontman for the jazz hip-hop group The Beast, finished third with 4,007 votes, or 15.8 percent.
The Rev. Sylvester Williams, Shea Ramirez, Tracy Drinker and Michael Johnson, who withdrew from the race this summer but remained on the ballot, rounded out the ballot.
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Schewel watched early returns with supporters at his home before going to the Palace International restaurant to greet Freelon. The men hugged and shook hands, and Schewel complimented Freelon on “an awesome campaign.”
“He can articulate a vision like few candidates I have seen,” Schewel said.
Schewel is currently an at-large member of Durham’s City Council, and the council would appoint someone to fill the remainder of his term through 2019 if he is elected mayor.
“Now that it’s down to two candidates, it definitely changes the dynamic,” Schewel said.
Throughout the campaign, he said, he heard from residents how Durham has become too expensive for them.
“People want us to stop the negative effects of gentrification,” Schewel said.
Ali, chief executive officer of The Institute, a nonprofit that works for minority economic development, had been up since 6 a.m. Tuesday, shaking hands and visiting the polls, he said.
Gentrification and affordable housing were the top issues he heard about, said Ali, who also is chair of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority Board and previously served one term on the council.
“I feel good, very good about the work we’ve done,” he said, hovering over a laptop as he watched the results at Will’s Social Bistro and Lounge. Many surrounding him wore T-shirts supporting Ward 2 council candidate Mark-Anthony Middleton.
Mayor Bill Bell, who is stepping down after 16 years, watched the results at Ali’s campaign party. He echoed several candidates’ concerns about low voter turnout, especially “given the number of candidates we had out there,” he said.
But said he would decide who to support once the primary is finished.
“I think people have tried to make (the election) about affordable housing. That’s the word on everyone’s mouth,” Bell said. “About the growth in Durham, focus on downtown versus other places. What I hoped this would be is a focus on poverty, on maintaining progressive growth in this community.”
In a speech to supporters, Ali said he was excited about the primary results because “it tells us that people are listening to the message of One Durham, about all coming together to build something that is really special. Around a sense of community, a sense of prosperity, a sense of shared development.”
“Durham is in a place where it is pivoting and great things are happening. People always talk to me about Bill Bell's legacy. Well, we are going to build on Bill Bell's legacy because a sense of prosperity is what we are talking about sharing because there is prosperity,” Ali said.
Ali, Schewel and Freelon raised the most money – more than $300,000 among them – during the primary season.
Freelon, who began the day marching to the polls at N.C. Central University with his daughter Stella, watched the results come in at the Palace International on Broad Street.
His children Stella and Justice were with him, as supporters, many in T-shirts bearing Freelon’s image, slowly filled the restaurant.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “It was a long, beautiful day today.”