Turnout may have affected Ward 3 race, observers say

Nov. 06, 2013 @ 07:27 PM

Precinct-by-precinct results show that former County Commissioner Pam Karriker gave Ward 3 City Council winner Don Moffitt a tougher fight than Moffitt’s unofficial victory tally suggests.

Moffitt, an appointed incumbent, won Tuesday’s election with 9,817 votes, 56.6 percent of all those cast.

But to do it, he had to withstand an election-day shellacking in Durham’s 22 majority-black precincts. Karriker took them by a combined margin of 1,433 votes. She received 7,490 votes overall.

Karriker ran with the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, and she did far better in majority-black precincts than the group’s other top council candidate, Ward 2 contender Omar Beasley.

Retired teacher Eddie Davis bested Beasley in Ward 2, taking 11,413 votes to the bail bondsman’s 6,086. The winner got nearly 65.1 percent of the vote.

Despite missing out on the Durham Committee endorsement, Davis fought Beasley to a near-draw in the majority black precincts, losing them by just 68 votes. 

“Eddie just is a great candidate,” said his campaign manager, Jackie Brown. “He worked hard, he went across lines, he got black votes, he got white votes, he got all kinds of votes.”

Brown added that Moffitt’s winning percentage is still “a pretty good landslide in most people’s books” for his having only one major endorsement plus the disadvantage of facing Karriker when there’s “a movement everywhere to get more women in power.”

“It surprised me a little he won [by] as much as he did,” added Bill Kalkhof, a former president of Downtown Durham Inc. who’d considered entering the Ward 3 race.

Kalkhof and other observers suggested Ward 3 came down to a turnout battle, one a Durham Committee weakened by internal quarrels lost to another of the city’s big-three political groups, the People’s Alliance.

The alliance was the only one of the big-three groups to endorse either Davis or Moffitt. Both won big in the group’s strongholds around the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.

Moffitt amassed an 890-vote advantage in early and mail-in absentee balloting and then sealed the deal by taking 55 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s precinct balloting.

Returns from individual precincts suggest that Moffitt generally ran better in places with better election-day turnouts.

For example, his best precinct, the School of Science and Math, had Tuesday’s top-ranking turnout, with 27.1 percent of its voters casting ballots in an election that saw only 10.5 percent of the city’s eligible voters participate.

By contrast, Karriker’s best precinct, centered on Fayetteville Road’s Ivy Community Center, ranked only 26th out of the city’s 55 precincts for election-day turnout. Just 9.4 percent of its voters cast ballots on Tuesday.

The Durham Committee’s internal battles affected its political-action arm, as the group’s leaders battled for control of it over the summer with former City Councilwoman Jackie Wagstaff.

The remaining big-three group, the Friends of Durham, was not an obvious factor in the outcome.

In fact, “in almost 30 years of politics in Durham, I’ve never seen the PA stronger and never seen the Friends of Durham and the Committee weaker than in this race,” said Frank Hyman, another former councilman.

He added that compared to the other big-three groups, the Friends is a “top-down” organization that lacks a get-out-the-vote apparatus.

Karriker won in at least one surprising place, the south Durham precinct that votes at the Parkwood Volunteer Fire Department.

It’s the city’s third largest voting district and home to an assortment of Durham political luminaries, namely Davis, Mayor Bill Bell, County Commissioner Michael Page and gubernatorial Chief of Staff Thomas Stith.

Karriker bested Moffitt there by 18 votes, even as Davis was rolling up a 259-vote advantage over Beasley.

She campaigned the precinct hard, posting volunteers there who as of mid-day were touting her “character and integrity” absent a countering presence from anyone representing Moffitt. She also worked the polling place in person Tuesday evening, staying nearly until balloting ended.

Her showing in the Parkwood area came a year and a half after its voters gave a PA-backed County Commissioners slate of Fred Foster, Ellen Reckhow and Wendy Jacobs the top three places in 2012’s Democratic Party primary.

Beasley and Karriker received lots of help this year from the N.C. Association of Realtors, which pumped at least $47,600 into a direct-mail campaign on their behalf.

But Moffitt on Tuesday night said Realtors’ intervention had backfired on the pair. On Wednesday, Brown concurred, saying I had energized Davis and Moffitt supporters.

Once the word about the Realtors’ spending got out, “everybody’s phones and emails were lighting up, saying, ‘Can you believe this, here they come again,’” Brown said. “In my opinion, they did Don and Eddie a huge favor with those mailings.”

“It was like busy little bees after that,” she said.