Steve Schewel thanks family and supporters as he is elected mayor of Durham.
City council member Steve Schewel—who founded The Independent Weekly
in 1983 and sold the paper in 2012—will serve as Durham’s next mayor, taking over the seat held by Bill Bell for sixteen years.
Surrounded by friends, family, and campaign staffers, Schewel proclaimed victory from atop a table at Pompieri Pizza in downtown Durham, as the last precincts reported results in Tuesday's election. He took the lead early on Tuesday and finished the night with 59 percent of votes cast in his favor. The council will have to appoint someone
to finish out his term, which expires in 2019.
"It feels great," he said. "I'm excited. I feel a weight of responsibility, and I have to do a really good job for everybody, not just for people who supported me."
Schewel thanked his wife and supporters and recognized his opponents in the mayoral race, particularly Farad Ali, who won 40 percent of the votes.
Ali is a former city council member, president and CEO of the Institute for Minority Economic Development, and chairman of the Raleigh Durham Airport Authority Board.
Schewel spent the evening watching results and shaking hands as supporters ate pizza and "Steve Schewel for Mayor" cupcakes. State Senator Mike Woodard, Representative Marcia Morey, Durham County Commissioners Ellen Reckhow and Wendy Jacobs, among others, were also in the crowd. At one point, the place was so packed with supporters and media that restaurant staff began calling out beer orders rather than delivering them table-side.
Schewel said this campaign has been "totally different" than any other he has been involved in. Last week, he and Ali participated in their twenty-fifth candidate forum, by Ali's count.
"Just the intensity level, the duration, the interest of the community, the way in which people felt like the future of Durham is on the line and that we have to make some really big decisions as a community in order to have the kind of future that we want," he explained.
He said he hopes to work with Ali as mayor, as well as Pierce Freelon, who came in third in the October primary and whom Schewel credits
with "setting the tone" for the election by getting out early and articulating a progressive message.
But first, he has meetings to attend. "And then on Friday, I'm going on vacation for a week," he said.
Ali watched election results roll in at Golden Belt along with other candidates endorsed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. As captured by a Herald-Sun video
, Ali thanked his supporters for the opportunity to serve Durham.
"I think this is something we can all be proud of," he said. " ... I want you all to be encouraged and inspired because the future is brighter than the past. As Rafiki says in The Lion King
, that's the past.'"
Voter turnout was over 18 percent, compared with just under 11 percent in the 2015 municipal election.
In addition to a new mayor, Durham also elected three new council members
. DeDreana Freeman unseated Ward 1 councilwoman Cora Cole-McFaddden
. Mark-Anthony Middleton will take over the Ward 2 seat now held by Eddie Davis, who decided not to seek reelection. Vernetta Alston will represent Ward 3, a seat currently held by Don Moffitt, who did not garner enough votes to make it through the October primary.
"The new council will be a much less experienced council," said Schewel, who has served since 2011. "So everybody is going to have to work really hard to get up to speed. ... The other challenge for any new council, and it doesn't matter if it's a council which is experienced or [a] new council, is that we're standing on the shoulders of people who built this city into the great city that we love. This is a great city, and people love it here. It's our responsibility to continue to make that true and make that true for everyone."
Outgoing mayor Bell attended both watch parties. Bell had endorsed Ali in the race but said both candidates are close friends and are "seasoned." His advice to the winner was to understand how Durham got to where it is today and to work alongside his colleagues on the council.
"Don't lose focus on the big things in this community," he said. "The thing that doesn't get a lot of attention that I think we've got to deal with is trying to reduce poverty."