Two contenders are challenging six-term incumbent Mayor Bill Bell in the upcoming Durham election.
Bell, who is running on the platform that he has successfully managed the city Durham over the past 11 consecutive years, is competing against Rev. Sylvester Williams, a minister who lost to Bell in 2011 by about 70 points. In his first crack at Durham politics, Michael Paul Valentine, a local business consultant, is also in the race. The Oct. 8 primary will whittle the candidates down to two, and the general election will take place Nov. 5.
“[Williams and Valentine] are both decided underdogs," said Kerry Haynie, associate professor of political science. "Mayor Bell is an effective leader. It will be an uphill battle for both of them.”
In his campaign, Williams emphasizes poverty, unemployment and morality issues in Durham, and Valentine is aiming his efforts at college students and how to best assimilate them into the Durham community.
Bell has served as Durham’s mayor since 2001. Formerly a senior engineer at IBM, Bell was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners in 1972 and has held public office ever since. Although deciding which projects to devote the most time to is a very challenging aspect of being mayor, Bell said overcoming obstacles and seeing projects come to fruition is quite rewarding.
“Since I’ve been mayor, we’ve seen renaissance in revitalization,” Bell said, noting that he would continue to assist the city in its progression and growth if re-elected. “I enjoy the office. I think I’ve provided good leadership.”
Williams has a background in finance as an investment analyst, which he said allows him to better tackle the economic problems of Durham. His goals are to achieve uniform growth, job creation and a great moral environment in Durham. He also said he aims to bring down Durham crime by keeping kids in school and closing wealth disparities. Williams also said he wants hold town meetings to hear from the people of Durham.
“I’m a believer in Christ Jesus and believe what the word of God says,” Williams said. “I believe in what I stand [for]. You know what you’re getting.”
Valentine, an Ohio native, said he and his wife fell in love with Durham's history and its vast quantity of opportunities. Valentine is a self-employed business coach and author of the motivational book "The Plan Doctor." At 33 years old, he thinks he is more connected to college students and young graduates than his competitors. He said he wants Durham to be a place where college students will stay after graduating.
“It was the last minutes of the filing deadline [to run for mayor], and I just took a leap of faith,” he said. “I work as a blocker, not a quarterback. I want to block so we can score that touchdown together.”
Junior Derek Rhodes, Durham native and Duke Student Government vice president for Durham and regional affairs, is curious about what the challengers have to offer, but he does not think they have the ability to successfully challenge the incumbent Bell.
“He cares about what is going on at Duke and how he can be a resource. It doesn’t get better than Mayor Bell,” Rhodes said.
Haynie said he would like to hear the candidates’ ideas on crime issues, growth in Durham and environmental friendliness in order to decide who is the best option. He wants a mayor who will deal with the inequality issues as well as improving businesses.