The Durham City Council will have at least two new members come December, after Tuesday's primary knocked out one incumbent.
In the Ward 1 race, incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden and challenger DeDreana Freeman will advance to the November 7 general election. Mark-Anthony Middleton and John Rooks Jr. will square off for the Ward 2 seat being vacated by Eddie Davis. In Ward 3, incumbent Don Moffitt came in third, so it will be Vernetta Alston against Shelia Ann Huggins. (And in case you haven't heard, Steve Schewel and Farad Ali made it through Tuesday's mayoral primary
The Ward 1 race had the tightest margin.
Freeman maintained a lead over Cole-McFadden throughout the night, no small feat given that in 2013, she was unopposed for reelection and still got nearly fifteen thousand people to the polls to vote for her.
Freeman watched results slowly trickle in at a People's Alliance party at 106 Main. With just a few precincts reporting, she snapped a cellphone photo of the results commemorating her lead in case it shifted. The People's Alliance, which had endorsed Cole-McFadden in the past, backed Freeman this year.
In the end, Freeman took 48 percent of the votes cast and Cole-McFadden 43 percent. Brian Callaway won about 6 percent and John Tarantino about 3 percent.
Freeman is a planning commission member and president of Durham’s InterNeighborhood Council. She’s known for her community organizing and advocacy for equitable neighborhood development.
"This has been a long, slow trot and we're getting ready to gallop," Freeman told PA partygoers after the results came in. "Let's get this slate through."
Cole-McFadden was endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and Friends of Durham. Freeman has the backing of the People's Alliance. Cole-McFadden was expected to run for mayor, but on the same day Ali announced his campaign, she surprised colleagues at a Monday night council meeting with news that she would instead run to retain her Ward 1 seat.
A former director of Durham’s equity assurance office, Cole-McFadden was the city’s first black female department head and has been a longtime advocate for Durham's youth and for women- and minority-owned business development.
"I love Durham and it's a blessing to serve my hometown," she said to a crowd at a watch party for Durham Committee-backed candidates.
With about half of precincts reporting, she was confident not only that she would survive the primary but that the entire Durham Committee slate would get through. (The other candidates echoed her certitude).
"You have to understand I am mayor pro tem, I'm the incumbent, I'm active in the community and I'm Cora Cole-McFadden," she said. Cole-McFadden has represented Ward 1 since 2001 and says this is the most negative election she's been in. That negativity was aimed at her supporters, she said.
In Ward 2, Middleton (also endorsed by the Durham Committee and Friends of Durham) won 42 percent of ballots cast. Rooks, who has the People's Alliance endorsement, won 31 percent. Rounding out the field were DeAnna Hall, LeVon Barnes, Robb Fluet, and Dolly Reaves, in that order.
A pastor, Middleton has been involved with Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN), was on a committee to select the city's police chief and was part of a delegation on community-police relations.
At the Durham Committee party, Middleton said this election will "usher in a new chapter in politics in Durham."
"Tomorrow morning this team will be part of the general election," he said, with about half of precincts reporting. " ... The conversation will be more focused on policy, more focused on the future of our city less posturing, less photos opps, more substance about where our city is going, and this team in this room is going to dominate that discussion."
Rooks is a da
ta engineer for the federal government and new member of the Durham Human Relations Commission. He serves on the boards of Love Over Hate N.C., which was recently presented with the Durham police chief’s award for distinguished community service, and R.E.A.L Kids United, a mentorship program.
The People’s Alliance interview committee had recommended Middleton for that PAC’s endorsement, but the PA membership was won over by McDougald Terrace residents who said Rooks had been a genuine advocate for their community and would continue to be long past Election Day.
In Ward 3, Alston won a bare majority of votes (about 50.5 percent), impressive for a political newcomer facing an incumbent. Huggins won about 26 percent of the vote, followed by incumbent Moffitt with 21 percent. Moffitt was endorsed by Friends of Durham.
A queer woman of color and a mother, Alston excited voters by promising to push progressive values further in Durham. She has stressed participatory budgeting, making Durham government more accessible to Spanish speakers, grants for minority-owned businesses, and ending all cooperation with ICE. An attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, Alston was endorsed by the People's Alliance, which had endorsed Moffitt in 2013.
Alston brought a whopping $44,000 in donations, compared with about $18,000 by Moffitt and $10,000 by Huggins. Lenny Kovalick, who won less than 2 percent of the Ward 3 votes, ran a self-funded campaign.
Huggins, an attorney, worked for the city for nine years in general services, community engagement and economic and workforce development. Addressing the Durham Committee party, Huggins said, as a black woman, she grew up with parents who "fought for rights and resources for everyone in their community all the time," and said she wants to continue that legacy.
"We are all a part of one team," she told the crowd. "This is my home now. You are my family now and you are who I look to serve."