Durham incumbents trounce challengers

staff writerNovember 3, 2009 

— Mayor Bill Bell and three incumbent City Council members won landslide re-elections today, each taking more than 71 percent of the vote.

With 57 of the city's 58 precincts counted, Bell led challenger Steven L. Williams 77.5 percent to 22 percent, with a handful of write-in votes. Results are unofficial until the Durham County Board of Elections tallies 1,047 early, absentee and provisional ballots and makes its final canvass next Tuesday.

"It's a vote of confidence, and I appreciate it," Bell said at a victory party Tuesday night.

Ward 1 incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden beat challenger Donald Hughes 76 percent to 22 percent; Howard Clement, a 26-year council veteran, beat Matt Drew 71.4 percent to 27 percent in Ward 2; in Ward 3, Mike Woodard took 86.5 percent to Allan Polak's 13 percent.

"The numbers are quite telling," Cole-McFadden said.

"Experience matters," said Clement. "To me, that was the basis for our election."

All the challengers were political newcomers. Williams ran for mayor in 2005 but dropped out before the election, while the three council candidates were making their first bids for office.

The vote closed an election most citizens sat out of. Of the city's 141,834 registered voters, only 10,204 went to the polls Tuesday.With the ballots yet to be counted, total turnout comes to only 7.9 percent.

In the 2007 council election, 25 percent voted, and 18.5 percent in 2005. Those elections, though, included several bond issues. Tuesday's voting was only for mayor and the three ward seats.

Tom Miller, president of Durham's InterNeighborhood Council, said the low turnout is "a signal of satisfaction. We have the best team on the council in a long time."

Woodard said the margins, "sent a clear, strong signal Durham values leadership."

For those who did turn out, voting went off without a hitch, Elections Director Mike Ashe said.

"Every voter that voted was treated properly and satisfied," he said.to the city's decayed water and sewer lines and potholed streets.

Bell and Cole-McFadden have held their offices since 2001. Woodard was first elected in 2005, while Clement is the longest-serving council member in Durham history with 26 years in the Ward 2 chair.

The newcomers challenged the city's status quo, but from different perspectives. Williams and Hughes emphasized inclusiveness and attention to the city's poor. Drew called for fiscal responsibility and restraint, and Polak stressed his business experience as owner of a small IT firm.

In all cases but one, incumbents won endorsements from Durham's three major political action groups. The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People favored Hughes over Cole-McFadden, but went with Bell, Clement and Woodard in the other races. The leftish Durham People's Alliance and rightish Friends of Durham endorsed all four incumbents.

In early voting, 1,006 citizens cast ballots, 112 more than in the Oct. 6 primary that set a modern record for low turnout with only 4.36 percent of registered voters participating.

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