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'Durham is an endorsement town': Mayoral candidates prepare for Election Day

With early voting underway and less than two weeks until the city’s municipal elections, Durham’s political action committees have made candidate endorsements.

In the mayoral race candidates Farad Ali and Steve Schewel look to be the city’s first new mayor since 2001. Thus far, Schewel has received endorsements from the People’s Alliance, Indy Week, Sierra Club, Equality North Carolina, City Workers’ Union, Muslim American Political Affairs Council and AFL-CIO. Ali has received endorsements from Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Friends of Durham, North Carolina Sheriff Police Alliance, Rev-elution Blog and current mayor Bill Bell. Schewel emphasized the importance of both candidates networking with the city’s influential groups at this point in the race.

“Endorsements in Durham are really really important,” Schewel said. “Durham is an endorsement town and endorsements in Durham matter more than money.”

Schewel, Trinity ’73 and a member on the Durham City Council, said that the main messages he is looking to communicate to voters at this point in the race include economic prosperity, promoting Durham’s values and maintaining quality of life as the city grows. He noted his desire to maintain a “wonderful small city quality of life” as the city grows.

“Will it be like driving around Washington D.C. at rush hour, or are we going to have a public transportation system here that really works and other alternatives to the car?” Schewel said. “I think that’s critically important for our environment and our livability.”

He explained the importance of having a comprehensive "ground game" prior to the election.

“On Saturdays and Sundays, I have volunteers going door to door for the last 8 weeks and also I have my volunteers  making lots of phone calls on my behalf, and I’m sending a lot of direct mail to potential voters,” he said.

Ali, a business consultant and former city council member, noted that at this point in the race his main focus is on making sure the city’s voter turnout is sufficient enough to represent the community’s perspective.

“We’re looking to get out the vote so that we don’t have a sample size of the population that determines who’s the next mayor or city council members but we have more of a representative sized population that determines who’s gonna represent the city,” he said. “Regardless of the election outcome you want people to vote because when they vote, their voices are heard.”

Ali noted that his campaign is focused on helping people get out to vote, including talking with groups that have large bodies or audiences who can be influential in getting out to vote. He applauded the city for having buses run for free on election day in order to assist people in getting to the polls. He also mentioned that the city’s long-term strategic planning effort is aided when people have the opportunity to participate.

“There’s so many important issues that lie before us that we need to have leadership that can be competent and compassionate and also just really understand how to put things together and collaborate,” he said.

The election represents an opportunity for Ali to become the city’s third African American mayor,  who explained that the call to vote resonates in a deeper way because of the historical exclusion of African Americans and women from the voting process.

“You gotta remember I’m an African American male right. People died to vote, people lost family members, people were put in jail,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that happened to people who could not vote to get this right. That’s what’s on my heart.” 

In addition to the mayoral race, Durham will elect three city council members. DeDreanna Freeman, who received 48 percent of the votes in the primary, will face incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden—with 43 percent of the votes—in the Ward 1 race. Mark-Anthony Middleton who received 42 percent of the vote in the Ward 2 primary will face John Rooks Jr., who won 31 percent of the vote. In Ward 3, Vernetta Alston, who received more than half of the votes in the primary, is up against Sheila Huggins.

The election day polling site for students who live on West and Central campuses is W.I. Patterson Recreation Center on Crest Street. It is at the George Watts Elementary School for students registered to vote on East Campus. Early voting continues until Saturday Nov. 4, with Election Day on Tuesday Nov. 6.