Farad Ali and Steve Schewel gather with their supporters on election night
Durham City Council member Steve Schewel grabbed the early lead in Durham’s mayoral race Tuesday night by the Durham County Board of Elections and never looked back.
With 59 of 59 precincts reporting, Schewel tallied 21,262 votes (59.5 percent), while his opponent and former council member Farad Ali scored 14,334 votes (40.1 percent).
“It feels great, I am excited,” Schewel said. “I feel a weight of responsibility that I have to do a great job for everyone, and not just my supporters.”
Schewel said he looked forward to working with his opponents, including Pierce Freelon, who was knocked out in the October primary election.
“I plan to work together with them on everything,” Schewel said.
Schewel also said this race was much different than any other election he’d been a part of.
“This (election) is totally different,” Schewel said. “The intensity level and the duration, the interest from the community, the way in which people thought the future of Durham is on the line and that we have to make some really great decisions in the community to make sure we have the community that we want. But also just the fact that Mayor Bell is leaving after an amazing, amazing career not only as mayor but also as a county commissioner, and that people really want to know what happens next. There was a huge amount of interest.”
Durham voters chose a new mayor for the first time in 16 years on Tuesday. Mayor Bill Bell did not seek re-election after leading the city since 2001. Schewel and Ali received the most votes in the primary and each hoped to get enough votes to become the next mayor of Durham.
But it didn’t work out for Ali.
In his concession speech, Ali thanked his supporters.
“While it did not work, I still had so much faith and works with the pastors and prayer groups, the mayor, the Committee on the Affairs of Black People, I think this is something we can all be proud of,” Ali said. “Right now, I think of David when he was in the desert. Right now, I want you all to be encouraged and inspired because the future is brighter than the past.”
Schewel watched early returns with campaign supporters at Pompieri Pizza across from Durham City Hall. Bell stopped by, as did City Council members Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson.
“I’m happy but it’s early,” Schewel said as he learned where he stood as the first results came in.
After the first 10 precincts reported, Schewel’s confidence began to grow.
“From early numbers it’s looking great and I’m hopeful it’ll hold up,” Schewel said.
Also at the restaurant with Schewel was former mayoral candidate Shea Ramirez, who was eliminated in the primary. She said she became friends with Schewel during the primary campaign season.
“I like what he stands for. He’ll be very good for the city. He’s good people,” Ramirez said about Schewel.
Bell left but N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard and Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow arrived. Bell went by Schewel’s party because Schewel asked him to attend. Bell then went to Ali’s party because he endorsed Ali.
Ali, who watched returns at Golden Belt, where the slate of candidates endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People gathered Tuesday night.
Ali said he expected Schewel to have a good showing in the early returns.
“I expected this based on the early voting numbers,” Ali said. “You could’ve predicted this. This is why we worked really hard to knock on doors and talk to people to get them to turn out.”
Ali said he expected to have a good turnout on Election Day.
“I think so, come on you saw the numbers for the primary, they appeared to be clearly (for Schewel), so I am not surprised,” Ali said. “We’ve got to inspire people. Not voting is voting, so let’s make sure we don’t have a small sample size so we can have a representative for the city.”
With 34 precincts reporting, Schewel’s lead narrowing but still 56 percent to 42 percent. Ali said, “It is what it is. I’m We’ll see, let’s wait. It’s all good.”
Schewel is a visiting assistant professor in Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and founded the alternative weekly newspaper The Independent, which he later sold. He has been on the Durham City Council since 2011 in an at-large seat.
Ali served on Durham City Council from 2007 to 2011. He currently chairs the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority and is CEO of The Institute, which works for minority economic development.
Schewel eventually left Pompieri Pizza and ended the night at the People’s Alliance PAC party at 106 Main, where a much smaller crowd gathered around 11 p.m. Tuesday.
“So here’s what I have to say. There’s just no way I would have won without the People’s Alliance, that is for sure,” he told them. Schewel and other People’s Alliance candidates gave brief speeches, hugged and took photographs, including one with the City of Durham flag out on Main Street – by that time a quiet night.
Farad Ali: 40.1 percent (14,334 votes)
Steve Schewel: 59.5 percent (21,262 votes)
59 of 59 precincts reporting.