Durham voters elected a new City Council member to the open Ward 2 seat Tuesday night.
Without an incumbent on the ballot, the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton defeated John Rooks Jr., handily thanks to early-voting totals that proved insurmountable.
With 59 of 59 precincts reported by the Durham County Board of Elections, Middleton had 19,148 votes (57.1 percent), while Rooks trailed with 14,339 votes (42.7 percent).
“This is a watershed election for Durham, with the change in leadership,” Middleton said. He is among three new city council members and a new mayor. “My best to Steve (Schewel, the mayor-elect), and I’m looking forward to working with Vernetta (Alston, the Ward 3 City Council winner) and DeDreana (Freeman, the Ward 1 City Council winner),” he said.
Middleton was endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, while Schewel, Alston and Freeman were endorsed by the People’s Alliance. He said he’s going to reach out to critics and even those who might consider him an enemy to work together.
“I’m just happy to be part of the conversation and I’m ready to get started,” Middleton said. He said that while other candidates endorsed by the Durham Committee didn’t win, “we’re celebrating Durham. Our supporters worked hard. Durham’s worth it.”
Middleton built a substantial lead when the early voting was reported. When precincts began reporting, he maintained his cushion.
Middleton said he was pleased with the early results.
“Man, there was a surge today,” Middleton said. “It definitely picked up at the several precincts I went to. Everyone was working really hard for every vote. It’s still early. Real early. I am confident in the strong start because of the performance in the primary.”
Middleton spent election night at the Durham Committee’s election returns watch party at Golden Belt along with other candidates endorsed by the Committee.
Middleton was asked to run by the Durham Committee and the NAACP. He is pastor of Abundant Hope Christian Church and was part of the clergy caucus in Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN) before running for the City Council. He graduated from N.C. A&T State University and Duke Divinity School.
Rooks was endorsed by the People’s Alliance political action committee. He works in IT and attended N.C. Central University. He watched returns at the Quarter Horse Arcade downtown.
Rooks said he was thankful for the democratic process that led to him getting the endorsement from the People’s Alliance during the campaign.
“Me being a newcomer to the whole politics thing, when I went into the meeting for the (Durham) Committee it was clear who they were already going to pick. There were probably only 20 people who made that decision. For the People’s Alliance there were probably over 500 people that (made that decision).”
He conceded that a controversy surrounding a questionnaire he provided to the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC was a setback for his campaign. The questionnaire contained controversial statements that Rooks said had been altered by a campaign aide without his review and did not reflect his beliefs.
“My race was probably one of the toughest ones,” Rooks said. “I was already sort of coming from behind. There were some hiccups during my campaign that kind of put a blemish on my campaign.
“Voters wanted to speak with me about (the questionnaire). After having that conversation with them they were kind of able to see my heart that that wasn’t me. But you couldn’t stop everything that had happened. … When you look at how much it was in the newspaper, how much in the social media, there was no way I could talk to 20,000 people.
“That questionnaire caused a lot of hurt, and I am sorry that had to happen.”
At the end of the night, Rooks went to the People’s Alliance PAC party, where he thanked them for supporting him.
Middleton said he has “mad respect for John Rooks. He ran a good race, and he’s an important voice in Durham’s future.”
Newly elected Durham City Council members will be sworn in at the Tuesday, Dec. 4 City Council meeting.
Durham City Council Ward 2
Mark-Anthony Middleton: 56.9 Percent (17,528 votes)
John Rooks Jr.: 42.9 Percent (13,202 votes)
54 of 59 precincts reporting