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Incumbents sweep city election

Durham residents gave City Hall a seal of approval by re-electing all four incumbents in Tuesday’s general election.

Mayor Bill Bell was re-elected to his fifth two-year term with more than 77 percent of the vote over his challenger, Republican Steven Williams. City Council members Cora Cole-McFadden, Howard Clement and Mike Woodard all received more than 70 percent of the ballots cast in their respective races. Durham City Council members serve four-year terms.

The incumbents, who together ran a joint re-election campaign, celebrated their victories alongside approximately 200 supporters and family members at the Blue Coffee Cafe in downtown Durham.

“This is a clear message to me that the voters of Durham are pleased with the leadership they have and the direction of the city,” said newly re-elected Council member Mike Woodard.

Woodard defeated challenger Allan Polak with 86 percent of the vote, earning more votes than any other incumbent on the ballot Tuesday.

Bell said this election cycle was less contentious than in years past, noting that all of the challengers in the election had no experience in elected office.

Supporters at the celebration said the challengers vying to unseat the City Council members did not do a good job of getting their message out to voters.

“The people who were running against [the incumbents] didn’t have the name recognition,” said Susan Austin, a Durham resident and a campaign volunteer for McFadden. “Durham has been making a lot of progress under this council so I’m glad to see to see that there will be continuity.”

Although few political observers thought any of the sitting elected officials were in serious danger of losing last night, some considered 75-year-old City Council veteran Howard Clement’s age a political liability.

“I think the voters spoke to that, in very clear tones, that age was not an issue,” Clement said. “I can’t control my age, but I can control the kinds of experiences I have earned and I have full control over my experiences.”

Clement, as the longest-serving City Council member, serving 26 years, made experience the central issue of his campaign against Libertarian Matt Drew.

“The voters, in my opinion, were very enthusiastic about supporting [the incumbents] because of our experience,” Clement said. “The voters had a choice between the challengers and the incumbents and decided that the incumbents had the experience we needed to carry the city forward.”

Clement defeated Drew with 71 percent of the vote.

Voters who attended the victory celebration said they attributed the large victory margins to the city’s progress under the current City Council’s leadership.

“Our city has come a long way,” said DeWarren Langley, a Durham native and second-year law student at North Carolina Central University School of Law. “The citizens of Durham realized that we were headed in the right direction and that [the incumbents] were the people who ushered us in that direction.”

Bell said he and the City Council will continue to promote the same policies that he believes are responsible for their victory, including a neighborhood reinvestment initiative.

“I’ve said consistently that, in my opinion, that strong neighborhoods make for a strong city,” Bell said. “These things don’t take place over night, these things take years. But, I think that if voters see you making progress in the right direction, then they will continue to support you.”

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