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Bell bests challengers in municipal primary

The voters of Durham spoke loudly in Tuesday's nonpartisan primary, handing four resounding victories to a trio of incumbents and one new challenger in the mayoral and city council races.

With 98.3 percent of precincts reporting, the highest vote-getter was Mayor Bill Bell, who earned 88.2 percent of the vote. He will be the first mayor since the 1960s to win a third term if he fares as well in the Nov. 8 general election. Challenger Jonathan Alston, who also ran against the mayor in 2003, received 6.1 percent and will appear on the ballot as well.

Bell said he thinks the voters examined his record and agreed with the city's direction. He said he is looking forward to facing off against Alston, but Bell also offered his competitor a bit of advice. "I hope he'll be a bit more factual with the comments he makes," Bell said.

School board member Jackie Wagstaff-who referred to herself as "J-Dub" and promoted a "hip-hop agenda"-garnered only 4.3 percent for third place. She declined to return calls for comment and will not appear on the ballot in November.

A fourth candidate, Republican Vincent Brown, withdrew last month after he was reported to have an extensive criminal record by The News & Observer. The Republican party did not offer a replacement candidate.

Besides the mayoral race, a pair of ballot spots were also up for grabs in each of three city council races. For Ward 1, incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden ended the day on top with 72 percent of the vote. Frequently outspoken candidate Victoria Peterson came in second with 17.1 percent, ahead of third-place finisher Joe Williams, who won 10.9 percent.

In Ward 2, current council member Howard Clement faced four challengers but wound up in first with 55.3 percent. He will face Regina Stanley-King in November, who picked up 22.4 percent of the votes. Candidates Jason Maynard, John Holmes and Carolina James-Rivera ended with 9.0, 7.9 and 5.3 percent, respectively.

The competition in Ward 3 was fierce, as challenger Mike Woodard nearly doubled incumbent John Best Jr.'s vote total with 52.1 percent. Best will still appear on the ballot, as he took second place with 27.5 percent.

The race in Ward 3 has been clouded by Best's allegations of unfair news coverage. Earlier this year, he spent two days in jail for failure to pay his child support, and he pled guilty to a charge of driving while impaired in 1998. Nonetheless, no other candidate garnered more than 10 percent, as Pam Karriker, Shawn Cunningham and Steven Matherly had 8.4, 5.87 and 5.5 percent of the vote, respectively.

Turnout was light this year, with just 12,931 votes cast.