Durham Planning Commission member DeDreana Freeman prevailed in the battle for the Ward 1 City Council seat Tuesday night, defeating incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden.
Freeman’s 54.5 percent paralleled the results of the early voting period, always the first numbers the Board of Elections releases on election night and often a bellwether for the final result. Cole-McFadden had 45.4 percent in the race, which tightened somewhat as precinct numbers came in.
“If housing is the area that people want to work on, I think myself and others, like [mayoral-race winner] Steve Schewel, will be the ones that end up at the top,” Freeman said when asked what triggered her victory. “I feel like folks in the city have realized that housing has been disappearing, and not just subsidized housing but housing for average people in the city, for the working-class and people who have a higher income. It has definitely shifted in a way that is changing too fast.”
Cole-McFadden began her concession speech Tuesday night by saying: “What a loss for the city of Durham.”
Going in, the Ward 1 race was the only one on the city ballot that wasn’t certain to cause a turnover in office. For the other two council seats and the mayor’s office, retirements or in case of council Ward 3 an incumbent’s loss in the October primary had guaranteed that someone new to the job will be taking over next month.
Freeman bested Cole-McFadden in the October primary and went in to the final with support from the People’s Alliance, on recent electoral track record the most influential of the city’s big-three political groups. Cole-McFadden had backing from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Friends of Durham.
Cole-McFadden has held the Ward 1 seat since 2001 and was seeking her fifth four-year term. She watched returns at the Durham Committee-endorsed candidates watch party at Golden Belt. Durham Mayor Bill Bell was there, too, as he had endorsed Farad Ali and Cole-McFadden.
“Cora’s a good council person and she knows Durham, a given because she was born and raised here and worked in city government,” Bell said. “I’ve always thought her heart and mind is in the right place.”
A former director of the city’s Department of Equal Opportunity/Equity Assurance, Cole-McFadden has been the city’s mayor pro tem and throughout her time in elective office has made a point of nearly always voting with Bell in council deliberations. Bell is retiring in December, giving way to City Councilman Schewel, who beat former council member Ali Tuesday.
Cole-McFadden said that it’s “a blessing when I exit, I will exit with the greatest mayor who ever served Durham.”
As returns came in earlier in the evening, she said that “the thing I thought about all day is no matter what, I am not a loser because I have given my life to Durham, as a kid up to the present time. What was really disheartening was when a relative of mine was approached by someone at a polling place and was told, ‘Don't vote for Cora Cole-McFadden, she is too old.’ That was from a PA worker. That is ridiculous, to say something like that, when I stooped down for a lot of them to ride piggyback off my shoulders into the future.”
Cole-McFadden considered running for mayor, but opted instead to seek re-election to her council seat. As the results unfolded on Tuesday, she won several precincts that Ali lost to Schewel, including one in south Durham’s Parkwood area that’s played a key role in elections past.
Freeman is special assistant to the director of the East Durham Children’s Initiative, one of the community’s signature anti-poverty efforts. She discounted the idea that candidates’ ages were an issue.
“It is if anything the issues that you focus on,” Freeman said. “I have stayed focused on the sustainable housing. I am not sure what her platform base was, but whatever was presented I missed it, and I think it was more of a difference in addressing some of the issues around housing or public transportation.”
Cole-McFadden, when the final results came in, said that “It is what it is. There is life after this.”
Freeman made her way to the People’s Alliance PAC party at 106 Main along with other candidates. Three out of four People’s Alliance-endorsed candidates won their races.
“This organization is moving in the direction to make the city stronger and better together,” Freeman told supporters.
DeDreana Freeman 54.45% 18,847
Cora Cole-McFadden* 45.40% 15,716
56 of 56 precincts reporting