Durham's silly season, part 1: Projecting the Council/Mayoral primary results
I Walk the Line: Leaving downtown, Ninth Street to the Medical Center

Schewel, Johnson, Reece lead Council race after primary; can anyone catch up?

As widely expected, the People's Alliance slate of incumbent Steve Schewel and newcomers Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece sailed to a top-three finish in yesterday's primary election.

With nearly 9,400, 8,200 and 6,000 votes, respectively, the PA slate finished well-ahead of the rest of the pack. (See the NC Board of Elections website for the latest numbers.)

Longtime Durhamite Mike Shiflett came in at the middle tier, with just over 3,800 votes; fifth and sixth place finishers Ricky Hart and Robert Stephens each drew about 2,500 votes.

For the Shiflett and, to a lesser extent, Hart campaigns, the big question will be whether a get-out-the-vote campaign could close the gap with third-placer Reece. It's not an insurmountable gap, but it would be a tough get. 

In 2011 -- the last year where we had the at-large seats up for grabs -- Steve Schewel, Diane Catotti and Eugene Brown all had similar vote totals to those seen by the leaders in last night's results, while challenger Victoria Peterson (I know, I know) was at approximately Mike Shiflett's vote total level. The general election vote tallies by percentage didn't change much, although only one candidate (the perennial John Tarantino) fell out of that seven-person primary round.

While we can expect last night's 13,000 ballots cast to probably rise to 20,000 or more in the general election, the question will be which way the eliminated candidates' votes split. Azar's total might swing to Shiflett, but the other candidates' tallies could be a more random walk; we also wouldn't be surprised to see Hart or Stephens pick up a good chunk of those in the general. 

The sixth-place finish was the nail-biter of the evening. The Herald-Sun's coverage initially gave the nod to Stephens, but challenger Sandra Davis took a lead later in the evening, per a Tweet from the Herald-Sun's Lauren Horsch. By morning, Stephens was again in the lead.

We're not sure which is more surprising: Davis' strong showing (as she essentially ran no active campaign); or Philip Azar's eight-place, 1,300 vote total. In a year when affordable housing is a big issue, Azar -- who spent much of his decade in Durham as a Habitat for Humanity staffer -- had a showing that significantly trailed expectations. 

Meanwhile, Stephens, a one-year resident of Durham, is on to the final-six as the one candidate lacking any political action committee endorsements to make it to the next round.

Oh, and Bill Bell is still going to win the mayoral race.


Frank Hyman

We're enjoying the fruits of the work that the bi-racial liberal coalition of the 80's and 90's (PA, DVA, DC) put in place to make Durham a top tier place to live: bonds for transit, parks, greenways, housing, support for small businesses, living wage, community policing, multi-racial coalitions, merged schools, etc.

But DVA imploded, DC rolled into a ditch (same one as the FOD apparently) and PA is the last PAC standing. Hope it stays that way for a long time. My congratulations to the winning campaigns.

Todd P

What does it say that the PA's endorsement appears to carry more weight than the combined endorsements of the Friends and the Durham Committee? Or that Bill Bell's poorest showing (68.89%) was in RTP area precinct 33?

With RTP's population projected to swell, Bell could be in trouble in 20 years or so...

Gerry Cohen

I've always thought that Durham's nonpartisan primary system was the worst of all worlds - this is the 4th election in a row Mayor Bell has had to run two campaigns despite 75%+ of the vote in the primary. With the Raleigh/Cary election and runoff method applied to yesterday's results Bell, Schewel and Johnson would have all been elected and there would be a Reece Shiflett runoff for the third spot (by the way Raleigh's current system was adopted in a 1972 referendum, Cary's about 15 years ago)

Andrew Edmonds

@Gerry: While I take your general point, Mayor Bell hasn't exactly pulled a muscle trying to "run two campaigns". He raised a grand total of $943.57 through the end of August: http://dconc.gov/home/showdocument?id=13477

Carol Henderson

I hope that Mike Shiflett does come out ahead. He has been a grass roots activist for years. He was a founding member of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association and is an active board member today. He actually lives in an affordable diverse community. The Police/Sheriff community also endorsed Mike. I think he is a great person to build consensus for our community: Friends of Durham, DCABP and Law Enforcement. He and his wife Cheryl have been active in PAC2 for years.

Erik Landfried

Does anyone know if primaries help or hurt general election turnout? That's my biggest concern with the primaries - it's hard enough to get people to vote for local elections (or any election for that matter), so having to message it twice seems unnecessary.

Rob G

I think a bigger concern is the money spent on staff and logistics for two elections. I know that in the grand scheme of things it's only a few hundred thousand, but that's another affordable housing unit or two.

What would it take for the city to institute IRV (instant runoff voting)? Are they prohibited by state law?

Gerry Cohen

RobG to go with IRV it would take a local act of the General Assembly. Hendersonville and Cary tried it out and abandoned it. The four choices the city has are (with some local major places who have it): Partisan (Charlotte, Winston-Salem and four smaller places), nonpartisan plurality (Chapel Hill, Carrboro), nonpartisan election and runoff (Raleigh, Cary, Rocky Mount), nonpartisan primary (Durham, Greensboro, Asheville). The city council can initiate a change (with or without a referendum) or a voter petition can force a referendum (as was done with shrinking the council I believe)

Gerry Cohen

in above post I meant "local or major places"

Michael Bacon

I'm no longer a Durham voter (at least for now) but I rather like the nonpartisan primary/runoff system. I'd actually rather see it expanded to include state and national elections. Let the parties have caucuses to decide whom they're going to endorse, then let an open, non-partisan primary decide who gets to be in the general.

Brian Hawkins

Michael, IIRC that's how Washington State does it. For statewide races it generally means that the top two candidates are a Dem and a Rep (I only lived there for three years, and don't recall it going differently). In some legislative districts, that means there are two of one party in the general election. And at least once in the Seattle district I lived in, a Democrat and a Socialist.

I honestly don't know if that's better or worse (or even how one would determine that) but it was definitely more interesting.

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