Primary leaves Beasley looking for turnout
Second-place Ward 2 City Council candidate Omar Beasley is focusing on turnout as the key to his hopes of reversing a nearly 38-point deficit to opponent Eddie Davis going into next month’s general election.
Davis emerged the victor of a field-winnowing council primary on Tuesday by pulling down majority support from one-stop early voters and by winning in all but eight of the city’s 55 voting precincts on the last day of balloting, unofficial returns from the Board of Elections show.
He took 59.4 percent of the vote, Beasley coming in second with 21.6 percent.
Beasley afterwards was happy to still be in the race. “Mr. Davis had a strong showing,” he said on Wednesday. “I did enough to get in.”
The key now, he added, is pushing turnout for the Nov. 5 general election “up near” the 10 percent mark. Turnout for the primary was a tick below 6 percent.
A higher turnout “could be a big difference” in the race, Beasley said. “At least I hope it will.”
Tuesday’s outcome left Beasley the task of becoming only the fourth person, in the modern era of City Council politics, to win a general election after finishing in less than a winner’s slot in the opening primary.
The only other persons to manage the feat include Mayor Bill Bell, who defeated then-incumbent Nick Tennyson in 2001 after Tennyson won that year’s mayoral primary with nearly 52 percent of the vote.
The same year also saw Tamara Edwards upset then-incumbent Dan Hill in the general election after finishing fourth in a primary with three seats up for grabs.
Councilman Eugene Brown to date is the last person to manage the feat. He upset Diane Wright, a former councilwoman attempting a political comeback, in 2003 after finishing fourth in that year’s primary.
The 2001 election was a watershed year in Durham politics because the city downsized the council, reducing it from 13 members to seven, counting the mayor.
Bell’s victory that year was helped by his willingness to use party affiliation as a weapon in an officially nonpartisan race. He is a Democrat, Tennyson a Republican, and Durham is a heavily Democratic city.
Brown chalked up his win in part to having distinguished himself from 2003’s other council candidates by being the only one to openly advocate the firing of then-City Manager Marcia Conner.
“There has to be a reason for people to want to vote,” Brown said on Wednesday. “Where is that reason in this election?”
Hill attributed his 2001 loss to the support Edwards received from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
“They were determined and very committed to defeating both Nick Tennyson and myself,” Hill said. “When the Committee on the Affairs of Black People in Durham gets committed to a cause, they really know how to get organized and to work to turn out their voters.”
Hill added that Beasley has “an uphill battle to fight” because of Davis’ connections in the community and the “racial dynamics” of running against another black candidate.
“It’s going to have to be a much larger turnout for him to have a chance, and he’s going to have to turn out all the people who’d vote for him,” he said.
Meanwhile, Davis on Tuesday night said he was pleased for have run well throughout the city.
Beasley won six precincts, all but one of them on the Fayetteville Street corridor that’s long been a Durham Committee stronghold. He went into the primary with the group’s support.
The remaining candidates, Del Mattioli and Franklin Hanes, each won a precinct. Mattioli took 13.6 percent of the overall vote, while Hanes trailed with 5.5 percent. Davis on Tuesday said he’s hoping to receive their endorsements.
Hanes and Mattioli each said they’ll likely make a decision about endorsing one of the survivors by the end of this week. Hanes didn’t tip his hand, but Mattioli made a point Wednesday of saying she thinks Davis “would be a viable candidate for” council.
“I think he’s a very serious person and I have a lot of respect for him,” she said. “And the feelings were mutual on his behalf.”
She deflected a question about Beasley. “I’ve given you my response,” she said.
Precinct-level returns show that Davis finished early voting with a 543-vote advantage from one-stop and mail-in voters.
He padded that lead with a 1,554-vote majority in the city’s 33 majority-white precincts and fought his opponents to a near-draw in its 22 majority-black precincts. He fell only 201 votes short of winning an outright majority in the majority-black precincts.
Primary-day turnout was actually a bit stronger in majority black precincts, running at 5.2 percent. Tuesday turnout in majority white precincts was 4.5 percent.
Turnout in recent city general elections has fluctuated dramatically. In 2011, 17.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots for mayor and the council’s at-large seats.
But in 2009, only 8.1 percent of eligible voters participated in a general election that included the council’s ward seats.
The 2003 and 2007 elections both saw 24.9-percent turnouts. The 2003 city election coincided with a county bond referendum, while 2007 was the year of the city’s most recent closely-contested mayor’s race, between Bell and then-Councilman Thomas Stith.
Early voting in this year’s general election begins next week, on Oct. 17. The election itself is Nov. 5.