With most of the votes for the Durham elections tallied last night, Mayor Bill Bell entered the Durham County Commissioners' chambers, where election results were broadcast, to hoots, hugs and hollers, as supporters congratulated him on his victory over Councilman Thomas Stith. Bell apparently only wanted to show his face, because he left for his celebration at the Marriott after only a few minutes of glad-handing, trailed by reporters eager to hear his thoughts about the city's most contentious mayoral election in years.
In an election that drew almost three times as many voters as the October council primary, Bell won 58 percent of the nearly 32,000 ballots cast, with 18,576 votes, to Stith's 42 percent, or 13,289 votes.
"It's good for the city of Durham given how the campaign was conducted," Bell said of his victory. "I hope it sends a message to future candidates not to conduct this kind of campaign."
Bell was referring Stith's campaign strategy, which relied on the largest war chest in the history of Durham city elections to fund attack ads, push polls and automated phone calls. Stith raised and spent more than $150,000 in the losing effort, according to campaign finance reports filed at the end of October. That amounts to more than $11 per vote for Stith. Bell raised about $45,000 but spent only $23,000, or $1.26 for each of his votes.
"I'm certainly disappointed, but we gave the people the opportunity to make a choice," Stith said. "They made their choice and I respect that."
The city council race provided much of the excitement last night. Incumbents Diane Catotti and Eugene Brown secured two of the three open seats on the council early on, but challengers Farad Ali and David Harris fought for the third and final seat much of the night. Ali eventually prevailed, winning about 1,000 more votes than Harris, with 13,652 votes, or nearly 17 percent of the vote. Harris, who finished fifth in the primary, won 15 percent of the vote, with 12,609 ballots cast in his favor.
Catotti won more votes than any candidate, Bell included, with 21,081 votes, or 26 percent of the council vote. Brown won 21 percent, with 17,665 votes.
City and county bonds passed with overwhelming support. More than 75 percent of voters supported $194 million for public schools and $8.6 million for Durham Technical Community College. Almost 70 percent voted yes for a $4.1 million bond to fund renovations at the Museum of Life and Science. Almost 75 percent of voters supported the $20 million bond issue to repair the city's streets and sidewalks.