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Spirits high for Schewel in mayoral election win, Ali despite loss

On election night Tuesday, Steve Schewel jumped ahead with an early lead over Farad Ali when the early vote numbers came in and did not relinquish his advantage for the rest of the night—ending the mayoral race with nearly a 20-point margin of victory and giving Durham its first new mayor in 16 years.

“I will do my best to be a good mayor of Durham, and I will need all your support to do it,” Schewel, Trinity ‘73 and a member on the Durham City Council, told his supporters in his victory speech. “Thank you.”

In the city council races, DeDreana Freeman won Ward 1 with 54 percent of the vote, Mark Anthony Middleton won Ward 2 with 57 percent and Vernetta Alston won Ward 3 with 62 percent. 

The city saw much greater voter turnout in the municipal election compared to 2015—36,181 people cast ballots in this year’s race, equating to an 18.7 percent turnout, compared to the 10.8 percent turnout two years ago.

Both mayoral candidates gathered with their supporters at night to watch as the precincts reported the results on the state board of elections website.

Bre Bradham

Schewel’s party was at Pompieri Pizza, where he was joined by several local elected officials—including Mike Woodard, a state representative from Durham and Trinity ’81, and city council members Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson. In his acceptance speech, Schewel thanked his campaign workers and supporters and said he will use the position to honor his mother, who died just more than a month ago. 

Ali, a business consultant and former city council member, gathered with his supporters for an election night watch party with city council candidates Mark-Anthony Middleton, Sheila Ann Higgins and Cora Cole-McFadden at the Golden Belt on East Main Street. In his remarks, he said that “sometimes you win and sometimes you learn,” but remained thankful to those who helped him promote the message of "One Durham" in the campaign.

“This has been wonderful but I ask that you all continue to pray for the city. Thank you for giving me the chance to serve the city,” Ali said. “I think this is something we call all be proud of. I want you all to be encouraged and inspired because the future is brighter than the past.”

Ali remained in good spirits throughout the evening, conversing with his supporters and dancing at one point.

“I really was wishing that the Russians would help me this election,” Ali joked. “But I think they’ve been busy.” 

Schewel—who has been a visiting assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy—was also joined by a handful of his Duke colleagues at his watch party. Martha Reeves, professor of the practice of sociology, and Alexander Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole professor of philosophy, said that they’ve known him for many years and that their children played soccer with Schewel’s children. 

Reeves highlighted Schewel’s ability to build bridges within the community and said that she thinks his heart is in the right place for Durham. She said that whether it was in his role as a soccer parent or on city council, Schewel has “always shown great judgement.”

“I’m looking forward to hearing Mayor Steve Schewel speak from the Chapel podium on Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Rosenberg said.

Schewel thanked Deondra Rose, assistant professor of public policy and political science, in his victory speech for her help with the campaign. Frederick Mayer—professor of public policy, political science and environment—said that he has been friends with Schewel for 30 years and noted they have been colleagues for 20 years. Mayer said that the day was a “great occasion for Durham” and noted that Schewel has attracted supporters from across many cross sections of city.

“All of us who have worked with him at Duke admire how dedicated of a teacher he is and the wisdom he brings to the classroom,” Mayer said. 

Retiring mayor Bill Bell, who attended both Schewel and Ali’s watch parties—and who endorsed Ali in October—said he has mixed emotions about leaving the office he has served in since 2001.

“Whether I’m ready or not it’s gonna happen. I’ve got a little over a month,” Bell said. “I’m gonna make it work. I’m looking forward to the time when I can pass the baton on.” 

McFadden, who was an incumbent city council member but lost the Ward 1 race this year called Bell’s departure a great loss to the city. McFadden said that it is a blessing to exit alongside “the greatest mayor that has ever served the city of Durham.” Attendees at both candidates’ watch parties praised Bell’s service to the Durham community over the past 16 years. 

“Mayor Bill Bell has been a great mayor, and he has served his community so well. Steve sings his praises all the time,” said Amy Salo, Schewel’s campaign manager. “I think it meant a lot that he would spend some time and come say hi to all of us.”

Salo noted that though Schewel’s campaign has drawn to a close, the work is not done.

“Steve mentioned today when we were riding in the car, ‘So after this, then I’ve got to do the job!’ The hard part is not over. We will have some loose ends to wrap up on the campaign,” Salo said. “There are people to thank, there’s yard signs to pick up—all those types of things to wrap up and make sure that everyone who was involved feels the full appreciation for everything that they did.”

But on Tuesday night, Schewel’s supporters and campaign staff celebrated their victory—electing someone not named Bill Bell to be the mayor of Durham for the first time in over a decade.

“It feels like the grand finale,” Salo said. “A lot of joy, a lot of relief, a lot of rest coming for our team in the next couple of days.”