Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who has held the office for 16 years, has formally endorsed mayoral candidate Farad Ali as his successor.

Bell’s announcement came at a crucial time. Ali and City Council Member Steve Schewel, Trinity '73, will face off to fill Bell’s position in the general election on Nov. 7. The two were the top vote-getters among the original seven candidates on the mayoral ballot. In the primary, Schewel captured more than 51 percent of the vote and Ali received 29 percent. 

Bell's decision to not seek reelection this year opened a vacancy that both Ali and Schewel are qualified to fill, he said. Nevertheless, Bell chose to endorse Ali, not only for his qualifications, but also for the consequences his election would have on the selection of Durham City Council.

“By electing Farad, we would be assured that at least four persons on the city council will have had some form of city council leadership,” Bell said. “We’ve made too much progress in this community to leave the City Council in the hands of people who have no city council experience. That could happen if we don’t elect Farad as the mayor.”

If Schewel wins, the City Council would have vote to appoint a replacement to his at-large seat, a situation Bell wanted to avoid, according to a press release from Ali's campaign. It said the decision of who will comprise city council “will not be a decision of the people.” Instead, six current city council members—most of whom, Bell said, do not have city council experience—will vote to decide. The decision would also be delayed past November.

Bell has firsthand experience working with both candidates on the Durham City Council. Ali was a council member from 2007 to 2011 and Schewel has served on the council since 2011. 

Bell said it was no easy choice for him to make between two longtime friends. He said he waited until after the primary election to make his endorsement to see whose names would be on the general election ballot. 

When he foresaw the effect Schewel’s election would have on the city council vote, he decided to take action.

Ali has held various other leadership roles in the Durham community that Bell cited as additional reasons for his endorsement. Ali currently serves as chairman of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority and trustee of the Duke University Health System. 

Recently, Ali was also selected as co-chair of the task force assembled to bring the second headquarters of Amazon to Durham. Bell noted this in particular as a testament to Ali’s leadership ability and the high esteem with which he is seen by Durhamites. 

Ali said he was grateful for Bell’s support. He compared Bell to Moses, calling him a trailblazer in nurturing Durham into the city it has become.

“Durham is going through a really great transformation, from tobacco to technology,” Ali said. “I hope and pray and ask for leadership that’s inclusive of every voice, so we can build a community—put the right ingredients in the Durham recipe, so that we can all enjoy the meal.”

In his announcement, Bell also endorsed Cora Cole-McFadden for representative of Ward 1 on the Durham City Council. He said he hoped Durham residents would take both of his endorsements into serious consideration before the general election.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said the University looks forward to working with either candidate for mayor.

"This is a very critical period for Durham in which gains will need to be consolidated and problems will need to be addressed," Schoenfeld said. "We're fortunate to have two excellent candidates. We're also fortunate that both of them are very familiar with Duke in different way, and we look forward to working with whoever wins."

Likhitha Butchireddygari contributed reporting.