Durham County

Observations on the Durham primary – Frank Hyman

Frank Hyman
Frank Hyman jleonard@newsobserver.com

The precinct results are in, so let’s look at the numbers.

First I want to honor all the candidates. And for those who didn’t make it through the primary, your consolation prize is that you won’t be sacrificing sleep, family time or home-cooked meals. And for the final winners, I’ll share with you one local elected official’s recent complaint, “You didn’t tell me I’d be spending all this time on rezonings!”

But the voters have made it pretty clear they liked candidates with the most relevant experience. The only two exceptions? Never-voted-in-a-local-election-before John Rooks’ survival in Ward 2 and incumbent Don Moffitt’s elimination in Ward 3.

Is there a lesson here? Yep. Just as no investor would hire an inexperienced person to run a restaurant – can they manage a staff? pay the bills on time? – voters shy away from candidates with little or no experience in successfully negotiating with people they disagree with. Among other skills.

The best way to get those skills? Get appointed to a board or commission serving the city or county. You’ll find out if you really have it in you to work with people who are quite sure that you are wrong

PAC Impact

Many voters might be curious about Durham’s three largest political action groups: the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People (DC), the Durham People’s Alliance (PA) and the Friends of Durham (FD).

Many PA members describe the group as “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” The FD describes itself as moderate/conservative, but given that they are Bull Citizens, you could say they are the liberal wing of the conservative movement. Like the African-American community, political views within the DC span the spectrum: Black Nationalist, progressive, environmentalists, pro-business and more.

Since only in the Ward 3 race did each group endorse a different candidate, those vote totals offer a rough measure of each PAC’s influence (I’ve included their campaign funds to contrast with endorsement impact. Feel free to draw your own conclusions!). PA helped Vernetta Alston take the lead with 12,335 votes (after raising $44,000). DC helped Shelia Huggins come in second with 6,477 votes (after raising $9,147). FD helped Don Moffitt net 5,223 votes (after raising $21,645). Of course other things also influence vote totals: news coverage, other campaigns, etc. But quantifying those other influences can only be done using a technique called “guesswork.”

PAC’s Past

The results in Ward 3 are a big change from the 1990s. In those days, a three-way race meant that DC and FD candidates each logged about 5,000 votes while PA candidates snagged about 3,000. In a two-way race, PA was often the king maker when they backed a DC or FD-backed candidate. But since about 2004, PA’s influence has grown due to better get-out-the-vote work, while that of DC and FD has been at a standstill.

PAC patterns

Another way to look at the PAC impact is to compare four candidates who received their only major endorsement from one group: PA. Three had a very tight pattern of about 12,000 votes that put them in the lead in their races regardless of spending: Schewel at 12,934 (after raising $92,000); Freeman at 11,760 (after raising $16,000), Alston at 12,335 (after raising $44,000).

The break in the pattern is John Rooks’ tally of 7,377 votes. He came in second to Mark Anthony Middleton’s 9,873 earned with assistance from endorsements by DC, FD and progressive groups.

PAC meetings as plebiscites?

Readers may recall that Rooks’ endorsement by PA was an upset. The PA leaders had strongly recommended Middleton. But residents of McDougald Terrace (MDT), who deserve a better shake and who touted Rooks’ efforts on their behalf, swayed a number of PA members. Many members declared that folks from MDT were representing the views of most Ward 2 residents – as if they were witnessing a plebiscite or a poll – and voted against the PA leaders’ recommendation.

So how did Rooks’ fare in Ward 2? Rooks lost to his opponent, Middleton, not only won city-wide, but lost by 2091-947 in Ward 2. He also lost to Middleton in his home precinct by 206-102. Middleton carried 14 of 16 precincts in Ward 2. Rooks did win MDT’s precinct 13 by 33-4.

Can’t wait to see what numbers the general election brings us. Hope to see you at the polls.

Frank Hyman has held two elective offices and has managed seven campaigns. He’s a carpenter, sculptor and policy analyst for Blue Collar Comeback.