When Steve Schewel climbed atop a chair amid cheers and cowbell-ringing to address the remnants of what had been a fifty-person crowd, his supporters were not waiting to see if he would make the runoff. Rather, they lingered in the bar to see if his vote totals would top the “psychological threshold” of 50 percent. 

In Durham politics, candidates jostle each other for the endorsements of the city’s three powerful political action committees. As municipal primary election results slowly rolled in on Tuesday night, the People’s Alliance PAC took over 106 E. Main Street for their election results watch party. Before the night was over, all four of the candidates they had endorsed—Schewel for mayor, DeDreana Freeman for Ward 1 of city council, John Rooks, Jr. for Ward 2 and Vernetta Alston for Ward 3—dropped by and took their turn thanking the PAC for its support.

“I’m feeling two ways,” Schewel said after addressing the PAC. “One is, I’m feeling tired because it’s been a long day of campaigning and a long several months to get here. But I’m also feeling really energized because I did really well, my volunteers are amazing and I know they are going to carry me through this next month.” 

In Durham’s primaries, the top two candidates advance to the runoff election, which will be held on Nov. 7, regardless of whether or not they haul in over 50 percent of the votes in the primary. On Tuesday, the People’s Alliance-endorsed candidates nearly monopolized the top spots, with Schewel, Freeman and Alston all taking first in their races. 

Rooks, Jr., who took 31 percent of the vote in his race, fell to Mark-Anthony Middleton by approximately 10 points, but will advance to the November runoff.

“Candidates that do well in the primary go forward with renewed strength,” said Tom Miller, a coordinator for the PAC. “The great thing about the People’s Alliance is that each candidate runs their individual campaign, but the PAC runs a joint campaign for all of them, so the energy is shared among the People’s Alliance members and candidates.”

That energy and excitement was evident in the bar on Tuesday night, where a cheer accompanied the earliest results when the first two percent of votes were reported, showing their candidates within good positions to kickoff the night. 

Freeman, who stayed at the PAC’s event for most of the night, was joined by her three children—twins who are eight and an 11-year-old.

“I think [my children] are excited,” she said. “They’re involved, and it’s important to me that they’re involved. Often you don’t see women include their family, they might do one or the other. It’s important that I do both, because I want them to see who I am and know that I will always be their mom.”

As the results continued to trickle in and her early lead over incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden solidified with more than half the precincts reporting, Freeman said she was looking ahead to the general election. 

“[My next step is to] look at the numbers, figure out where we need to put our energy,” she said.

Miller said that he feels “great” about Schewel’s chances against Farad Ali, who advanced to the runoff with 29 percent of the vote. Overall, Miller said he was pleased with the way the night went for the PAC’s candidates.

Others in attendance concurred with that sentiment. Ron Grunwald, senior lecturer of biology at Duke, has been active in the People’s Alliance since 1979, and he’s known Schewel since before each of them became professors at the University. 

He said he appreciates Schewel’s commitment to a progressive Durham and said that the PAC’s endorsement of him was the “correct” thing to do. As he departed the watch party with most of the precincts reporting, Grunwald was confident about the candidate’s position going forward.

“He’s going to win in November, and we’ll have him as mayor,” Grunwald said. “His time has come.”