Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden’s announcement at Monday’s City Council meeting that she would not be running for mayor, took other officials and many residents by surprise.
Cole-McFadden’s announcement left the mayoral field featuring two announced candidates, Councilman Steve Schewel and former Councilman Farad Ali.
Longtime Mayor Bill Bell had announced last year he would not seek re-election. Cole-McFadden may not be running for mayor, but will seek re-election to her Ward 1 City Council seat.
Cole-McFadden’s announcement “absolutely floored” Councilman Charlie Reece.
Cole-McFadden had been seen as a likely candidate to succeed Bell, and he had said he would have supported her had she run.
“I’d heard Cora talk about running many times,” Reece said. Referring to his own political ambitions, Reece added,“I’m not ever running for mayor.”
Reece said a mayoral race between two sitting Council members would have been “very difficult” for the other Council members, who would have become spectators to an election pitting “two close friends and colleagues.”
Reece said he supports Schewel for mayor. Schewel, whose at-large seat isn’t up for election this year, announced plans to run for mayor in January. Schewel was first elected in 2011.
“I was as surprised as everyone else. I have a lot of respect for Cora,” Schewel said. “I feel like I have a great shot [at being elected mayor]. I’ve been deeply involved in the [Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People] for a long time and people know that and I feel that that has brought me a lot of support.”
No one was more surprised by Cole-McFadden’s announcement than InterNeighborhood Council of Durham president DeDreana Freeman, who began plans to run for the Ward 1 City Council seat after hearing rumors that Cole-McFadden planned to vacate the seat to run for mayor.
Freeman said she’s still in the race despite Cole-McFadden’s announcement.
“I think it’s unfortunate, we now have two women running against each other, but it’s set now,” Freeman said.
After weeks of wrestling with the decision, Cole-McFadden said she had “pretty much” settled on her final decision by the end of last week. She said her experience at the Durham County Democratic Party Convention last weekend sealed her choice.
“I saw some behavior there that really troubled me,” Cole-McFadden said. “And I said to myself ‘I’m glad I’m going home.’”
Cole-McFadden referred to herself as the last “true Durham person” on the City Council.
“I’m a native of Durham,” she said. “So I understand when Durham was doing well, was not doing so well and (have) helped to make to make Durham what it is.”
She added, “When you’re the mayor — and I believe I would have won — you, the mayor, have to be supported by the mayor pro tem, just like I supported Mayor Bell.”
Cole-McFadden was first elected to the City Council in 2001.
Almost simultaneously with Cole-McFadden’s announcement, Farad Ali announced by email he will be a mayoral candidate.
Ali said he had been “fortunate to experience the leadership of” Mayor Bell and Cole-McFadden when he held a seat on the City Council from 2007 to 2011.
“My mentors and friends, Mayor Bill Bell and Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden have led incredible growth in our diverse city,” Ali said.
Ali is past chairman of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and treasurer of the board for the Triangle Community Foundation.
“I’m a business guy but it’s not like I’m running as a business guy,” Ali said. “I have had a lot of exposure to leadership roles. Friends from across multiple areas and causes have indicated that they’ll lend me support.”
Ali said he has worked with the Southern Coalition of Social Justice and as the chair of the Raleigh Durham International Airport Authority.
Durham Committee On The Affairs Of Black People chairman Omar Beasley said the Committee was “shocked” by Cole-McFadden’s announcement but “pleasantly surprised” because “Ali Farad threw his name into the hat later that night.” The Committee has historically supported Cole-McFadden and supported Schewel during his last run, Beasley said.
“The Committee has always supported Cora Cole-McFadden. It would be hard for me to believe that we would not be supportive of her now,” Beasley said. “We would like to see Cora go out on her own terms, serve for one more term or two more terms or however many that she wants and go out on her own terms.”
Middleton ponders Ward 2 run
City Councilman Eddie Davis, too, said he had heard Cole-McFadden speak of her plans to run for mayor on numerous occasions and was caught by surprise by her announcement.
Davis announced several weeks ago that he would not seek re-election to his Ward 2 Council seat.
“The Committee has been pursuing someone that we would like to see run for the Ward 2 seat,” Beasley said. “We have been recruiting someone. I believe you should expect to see a formal announcement from that person by the end of the week.”
Beasley was spotted seated next to senior and founding pastor Mark-Anthony Middleton of Abundant Hope Christian Church Monday night’s City Council meeting.
“I am actively considering running,” Middleton said of the Ward 2 seat. “I have been approached by several prominent organizations asking me to run. I am seriously weighing the decision. There are no official endorsements.”