What Happens to Steve Schewel’s Council Seat if He Becomes Mayor? | Durham County | Indy Week

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What Happens to Steve Schewel’s Council Seat if He Becomes Mayor?

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Two weeks ago, Durham Mayor Bill Bell announced he was endorsing for Farad Ali in the November 7 election that will decide who succeeds him after sixteen years at the city's helm. Explaining why he supports Ali, Bell touted the candidate's past experience on the council and business acumen. But, as Bell said, "this election is more than an election for mayor." Depending on the outcome, the city council could be tasked with appointing another member to its ranks.

In Tuesday's election, Ali faces current city councilman Steve Schewel. If Ali wins, Schewel keeps his council seat. If Schewel wins, his peers on the council will choose someone to finish out his unexpired term. According to council procedures, the member being replaced can't participate in the process "once their resignation is accepted by the City Council."

Here's how it works.

Interested candidates can apply for the job with the city clerk, who will verify that each applicant is a registered voter in Durham County and doesn't owe any county taxes. The city council is supposed to come up with criteria to evaluate the applicants and a questionnaire. The council can then narrow the field to "not less than three nor more than seven candidates" to to be interviewed. These interviews must be conducted in an open meeting, preferably televised. Then they vote.

The application should be "substantially similar" to the one used the last time a council vacancy was filled. That was 2013, when council member Don Moffitt (who did not make it through the October primary) was selected to finish out Mike Woodard's unexpired term after he was elected to the state Senate. The three-page application asked candidates why they want to serve, what they would bring to the table, and their ideas on addressing affordable housing, crime, transit, development, jobs, and diversity. They were also asked what books, newspapers, and blogs they've read recently and what sources of information they would rely on to make decisions if appointed.

Schewel holds an at-large seat, so there would be no residency requirement other than that applicants live within city limits. The city code gives the council sixty days to fill the seat. 

Of course, we don't know yet if any of this will be necessary. Schewel won the primary handily with about 51 percent of the vote, compared with Ali's 29 percent. Schewel has the endorsement of the People's Alliance, the Triangle Labor Council, and the Sierra Club. Ali has the backing of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Friends of Durham, and, of course, Bell.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said the city doesn’t lay out a timeline for council replacements.

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