How Durham city council could shift by age, gender and race

Durham mayoral candidate Steve Schewel washes dishes in his kitchen while his campaign staff watches the results of the mayoral primary election on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, in Durham, NC. Schewel held a strong lead throughout the evening, finishing with 51.2 percent of the vote.
Durham mayoral candidate Steve Schewel washes dishes in his kitchen while his campaign staff watches the results of the mayoral primary election on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, in Durham, NC. Schewel held a strong lead throughout the evening, finishing with 51.2 percent of the vote. rgourley@heraldsun.com

Durham voters narrowed down their choices of the next mayor and three city council seats on Tuesday night.

Council member Steve Schewel and former council member Farad Ali received the highest number of votes in the mayoral primary and will face off in the general municipal election less than a month away. One of them will replace Mayor Bill Bell, who served for 16 years.

Voter turnout for Tuesday’s primary was higher than usual, with 13 percent of registered voters casting ballots. In 2015, primary turnout was just 7.8 percent. Schewel received 51 percent of the vote for mayor and Ali received 29 percent. This was the first mayoral primary in 20 years without an incumbent on the ballot, according to Derek Bowens, director of the Durham County Board of Elections.

No matter who wins in each of the races, the balance of the council will shift. While it’s a nonpartisan council in a historically progressive city, what could change is representation of age, gender and race.

The council will remain majority African American no matter what, with African Americans holding four of the total seven council seats — six actual council members and the mayor. If Ali wins, the majority will increase to five. If Schewel wins, the council will appoint a replacement to his at-large council seat. The number of women on the city council will increase from two to three, as both Ward 3 candidates are women.

DUR_ 1010-primarymayor04
Durham Mayor Bill Bell and mayoral candidate Farad Ali during a primary election results party, Tuesday, October 10, 2017. Bernard Thomas bthomas@heraldsun.com

In Ward 2, council member Eddie Davis will be replaced by either Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton or John Rooks Jr. All three are African-American men. In Ward 1, Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden will either keep her seat or be replaced by DeDreana Freeman. Both are African-American women. In Ward 3, incumbent council member Don Moffitt did not get enough votes to make it to the general election. Moffitt, who is white, came in third behind Vernetta Alston and Shelia Ann Huggins, both African-American women.

With Moffitt, Davis and Bell out of the race, only Cole-McFadden and Schewel are Baby Boomers at ages 72 and 66, respectively. Generation X is set to take hold of more seats, along with a Millennial. Generation X is loosely defined as 36 to 50, with Millennials as 21 to 35. The Ward 2 seat will be held by Middleton, 49, or Rooks, 48. The Ward 3 will be held by Alston, 35, or Huggins, 49. Cole-McFadden, 72, is being challenged by Freeman, 40. Ali is 50.

Current City Council member Jillian Johnson is 36, and City Council member Charlie Reece is 47. The primary candidate field included several more younger candidates, with Pierce Freelon, 33, LeVon Barnes, 34 and Dolly Reaves, 27, among others who didn’t make it through that election.

Freelon got 15 percent of the vote. However, he raised the second largest amount of money – $98,000. Ali raised $132,000 according to the latest campaign finance report, and Schewel raised $92,000.

The power of Durham’s big political action committees showed up in the results too, with all four of the People’s Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People PAC endorsements making it through the primary.

See how Durham mayoral candidates Farad Ali, Pierce Freelon and Steve Schewel reacted to the primary election results Tuesday night. Schewel held a strong lead throughout the evening, finishing with 51.2 percent of the vote. Ali came in second wit

Three of the People’s Alliance PAC endorsees received the most votes in their race — Schewel for mayor, Freeman in Ward 1 and Alston in Ward 3. Durham Committee endorsed the Ward 2 candidate who received the most votes — Middleton. PA’s PAC committee suggested the PAC endorse Middleton, but the endorsement went to Rooks during the People’s Alliance endorsement meeting with about 400 members. PA endorsees get money and labor from the PAC, who campaign for the slate of endorsements.

Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People leader Omar Beasley said Wednesday that his group is pleased its candidates got through the primary, but has significant gaps to close. He said the Committee is hitting control-alt-delete to reset strategy.

Bell went to Ali’s primary results watch party, but stopped short of endorsing him, yet.

“We all acknowledge Bell has done great things in Durham,” Beasley said, “but also the wealth gap in Durham has gotten wider. Farad’s work in economic minority business development makes him the perfect person to address that issue.”

Cole-McFadden and Freeman’s race is expected to be close, with each gaining more than 40 percent of the primary vote, but Freeman led by six percentage points. Beasley thinks turnout is key.

“She’s done a great job up there [on city council], done a lot of work and hopefully will go out on her own terms,” Beasley said of Cole-McFadden.

“We’ve got to turn out the vote,” he said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan


The top two vote-getters in each race will compete in the municipal general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

59 of 59 Precincts reporting:


  • Steve Schewel: 12,934 votes or 51.21 percent
  • Farad Ali: 7,359 votes or 29.13 percent
  • Pierce Freelon: 4,007 votes or 15.86 percent
  • Sylvester Williams: 333 votes or 1.32 percent
  • Shea Ramirez: 285 votes or 1.13 percent
  • Tracy Drinker: 246 votes or 0.97 percent
  • *Michael Johnson appeared on the ballot but said in July he was dropping out of the race. He received 95 votes.


  • DeDreana Freeman: 11,764 votes or 48.09 percent
  • Cora Cole-McFadden: 10,473 votes or 42.81 percent
  • Brian Callaway: 1,431 votes or 5.85 percent
  • John Tarantino: 794 votes or 3.25 percent


  • Mark-Anthony Middleton: 9,874 votes or 41.93 percent
  • John Rooks Jr.: 7,377 votes or 31.33 percent
  • DeAnna Hall: 2,789 votes or 11.84 percent
  • LeVon Barnes: 2,408 votes or 10.23 percent
  • Robert Fluet: 611 votes or 2.59 percent
  • Dolly Reaves: 488 votes or 2.07 percent


  • Vernetta Alston: 12,335 votes or 50.55 percent
  • Shelia Ann Huggins: 6,477 votes or 26.55 percent
  • Don Moffitt: 5,223 votes or 21.41 percent
  • Lenny Kovalick: 365 votes or 1.50 percent
Related stories from Durham Herald Sun