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Catotti makes a surprise return to the race for City Council, could bring strong progressive voice for third term

With the announcement that longtime County Commissioner Becky Heron was stepping down, we here in the BCR batcave were worried that we might lose those wonderful "Keep Her-On" signs that have graced streetcorners since the Reagan administration.

Catotti Well, OK, those signs might come down. But given the concern that City Council might lose one of its strongest female voices, there've been a lot of people, it seems, lobbying Diane Catotti to "keep her on," too.

And as of this week, as the filing period draws within weeks from beginning, it looks like voters will have a chance to do just that.

In an unexpected turn, Catotti has announced that she will in fact run for a third term on City Council this fall.

That move could have a big impact on the election -- potentially, depending on the election's outcome, even throwing a progressive wing forward to hold a majority on the seven-person board.

Since 2003, Catotti has, with Mike Woodard's addition in 2005, anchored the progressive wing of the Council. That group overlaps closely with the People's Alliance and the Independent Weekly coterie, pulling in at various times Eugene Brown, Farad Ali, and even the occasional Howard Clement vote to their side.

Catotti, Ali and Brown are all up for re-election this fall as part of the quadrennial at-large election bids. At one time, the odds seemed only on Brown seeking re-election; Catotti had signalled her plan to return to work full-time in order to help pay college expenses for her kids, while Ali had initially seemed to observers to be uncertain as to whether he'd seek a new bid.

As of this fall, though, it looks like all three could well run for another term.

One wonders how this news will effect the dynamics of the fall race, given the previous announcement that two progressive candidates were planning to seek office to fill the vacuum Catotti left behind:

  • Indy publisher and owner Steve Schewel would seek election to the Council -- an announcement that, at the time, seemed prepared to preserve the progressive voice Catotti brought to the Council, and,
  • David Harris, formerly an engineer with GTE/Verizon and Nortel and the current president of the People's Allliance.

If both Harris and Schewel enter the race along with Harris, this fall's race could be very lively indeed. 

UPDATE: The Herald-Sun notes that Harris will not be entering the race given Catotti's decision to run.

In 2007, Catotti was the clear leader in the Council race, getting 25.6% of all votes cast to Brown's 21.4%.

Ali had the tightest race, narrowly ekeing out (by just over 1,000 votes) a win over David Harris, the fourth place finisher.

The 1.4% lead that Ali ended up holding on to over Harris came despite Ali and not Harris earning an endorsement from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, with its sometimes-waxing, sometimes-waning influence over electoral outcomes.

Progressives brought Harris big votes in left-leaning districts in west-central Durham and other parts of town. But Ali also drew a fair amout of progressive votes, too, bolstered by fundraisers in the same neighborhoods and a long line of endorsers speaking of him as a fresh face in local politics.

Now, Ali's got four years of actual electoral history -- along with, perhaps, a vote on the controversial 751 South case to come.

And one has to wonder whether the progressive vote will again split between Ali and Harris in a rematch race.

For that matter, should Catotti, Schewel and Harris all run, the voting dynamic could be very interesting for all incumbents.

Given that voters can choose up to three candidates, I'd be shocked if Catotti-Harris-Schewel didn't come to resemble a closely-clustered pick-three slate for progressive voters.

Some of those voters may pick off for Brown and Ali, and certainly middle-of-the-road and even some conservative voters may mark their ovals for them.

On the other hand, if neither gets progressive votes in the same numbers that they did in 2007, then they'll face a new challenge in building coalitions and winning endorsements.

No matter what, 2011 will be more interesting in the at-large race than 2007, when the re-election of Brown and Catotti were a fait accompli and all that remained interesting was the race for third. (Oh, and the Bell-Stith race, naturally.)

And this is thinking far ahead -- but if three progressives (or two progressives and, on many issues, Brown/Ali) all won Council seats, you could actually see a the at-largers join up with Woodard to hold a majority on Council votes.

And that could make today's balance of power, which sees Mayor Bell having a fairly strong voice into the outcome of votes, very different in 2012 indeed.

(The Indy Weekly has the story as well.) 


Rob Gillespie

And, per Gronberg @ the HS, Harris appears to be dropping out:

"I was going to, but now that Diane has reconsidered, I don't think I am," said David Harris, who'd previously signaled that he'd likely make his second try for a council seat. "If Diane's going to run, I'm not going to run."

Kevin Davis

@Rob -- Yeah, I modified the post to note that early this morning.

Still, with Schewel staying in the race, I still suspect you could see some interesting shifts at play here... particularly if voters who last time around may have been Catotti + Brown + 1 preference-pickers now find themselves adding Schewel to that mix.  

Ironically, if it were to be Catotti, Schewel plus Brown/Ali -- that swing vote becomes more pivotal than ever, in some ways.

Tar Heelz

Our Council has a progressive "wing"? How would you describe the appendage on the other side of the Council bird?

Rob Gillespie

And now it looks like Farad Ali is out. This leaves the current candidate slate as Catotti, Brown, and Schewel.

Still no word on Kalkhof.


Politics aside... I hope to be able to vote for people who believe in Durham and want to take it from Good to Great Things...

Tar Heelz

Victoria is IN!

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