Durham's City Council election: which candidates are prepared to lead our city?
Development and cops: Live blogging City Council, Nov. 5, 2015

Schewel, Johnson, Reece earn solid victory in Council races; Bell trounces in final election

If you thought the general election would follow the primary's trends, then last night's election results weren't too surprising at all.

The People's Alliance slate of incumbent Steve Schewel and ballot newcomers Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece moved on to victory in the general, with all six candidates maintaining their order-of-finish from the primary round.

Schewel earned 28.1% of the vote to lead all candidates; Johnson, who put together a model ground-game campaign in her bid, followed with 23.4%.

Indeed, from the time the earliest precincts started to report, the only real question was whether we'd see a surprise for third place, where Reece (18.1%) bested Mike Shiflett (13.8%).

Reece beat Shiflett by 2,301 votes, according to provisional results released by Durham's Board of Elections. And nearly one-third of that lead (725 votes, or 31%) came from Reece's lead in early voting and absentee tallies, which accounted for only one-fifth of all votes placed.

If it sounds like last night was a bad night for the endorsement slates of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Friends of Durham -- well, that would seem to be a fair explanation.

If you ignore Schewel's vote totals, since he was endorsed by all three PACs, and look just at Johnson-Reece and Shiflett-Hart, the latter earned more votes than the former in only seven out of 56 precincts.

But in those seven precincts, Shiflett-Hart outpolled Johnson-Reece by a total of only 291 votes.

By comparison, Johnson-Reece outpolled Shiflett-Hart by more than 200 votes in each of six precincts.

Looking just at Reece and Shiflett, the third and fourth place finishers, tells a more interesting story.

It suggests that get-out-the-vote efforts and a motivated base in the People's Alliance stronghold districts in West Durham plus their supporters' apparent turnout in early voting appears to have paid off for Reece.

In fact, in 43 of the 56 districts, Shiflett actually beat Reece on election night, with a 235 vote lead.

But in the other 13 districts representing West Durham and portions of central-southwest Durham (Precincts 1-9, 20, 40, 43, 50), Reece held an 1,811 vote advantage in election day totals.

Add to that Reece's 725 vote lead in early voting, and you have the margin of victory.

In comparing Reece to Hart, Reece had a net lead in both the West Durham core (2,522 votes) precincts and non-West Durham (337 votes) precincts on election day, with Reece winning 42 of 56 districts.

(There's potentially a couple of reasons for this. Frank Hyman has argued that in past elections, African-American candidates endorsed by the Friends trail white endorsees in some white conservative districts. Alternatively, Shiflett's longtime civic engagement and familiarity in the community is a more-than-reasonable alternative explanation. We'll need to dig in further to those suburban/rural districts later on to see what may be happening there.)

We haven't controlled these results for population density, but our hunch looking at these numbers is two-fold. First, the PA base seems to have been the most motivated this election, in general, and the enthusiastic numbers in West Durham and at early voting helped all three members of their slate.

At the same time, the Johnson campaign likely feels they pulled a number of new voters into the process with grass-roots activity, and those voters likely served to augment the existing PA base and support the PA slate.

It's possible a stronger GOTV effort by Friends and Committee supporters could have made a difference. In elections, energy and momentum matter, and that clearly seems to have gone the PA's way this cycle.


Frank Hyman

BCR: Three times I've read your sentence above about my views in voting patterns and I still have no idea what you're trying to say. Did you compare Hart and Schifflet's votes (both endorsed by the Friends of Durham which has a mostly white/conservative base) in the overwhelmingly white suburban/rural precincts?

Frank Hyman

Congratulations to Bell, Schewel, Johnson and Reece. Well managed campaigns all. Thanks for taking on the hard work.

Bull City Rising

@Frank: you're right, the phrasing was hard to parse. I've corrected to try to be clearer, and will have to look when time permits more closely at those white suburban districts.


I think a lot of voters in Durham were feeling frustrated, especially about social justice issues. Durham's rise is mostly befitting the privileged, and it's leading to bigger disparities. People voted for the candidates who shared those concerns and promised to make improvements.

Dave Connelly

Along with Durham's 3 traditional PACs, Durham CAN seemed highly visible in this campaign, especially on affordable housing. How much did CAN influence the outcomes?

The Mgmt.

"Durham's rise is mostly befitting the privileged, and it's leading to bigger disparities."

This statement needs to be challenged.

The majority of the people I work with are minority, come from disadvantaged backgrounds and all make in excess of living wage. There is in effect of wealth coming to town (and wealth growing within the town). It is not strictly befitting the wealthy.

Maybe more so in Cary. But not here.

The Mgmt.

And congratulations to our council winners. Welcome to the party.

Dave Neill

Thanks are owed to all the candidates who were willing to put there names out there in service to the City. Congratulations to Mayor Bell, Councilman Schewel, and our councilors-elect Johnson and Reece.

Now, wait... Is Frank contending there is really such a creature as a "conservative" district in the City of Durham? ;)

Dave Neill


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