Durham: incumbent looks strong in mayoral race

Sep. 16, 2011 3:11 pm

Durham will soon elect a mayor, with incumbent William V. “Bill’’ Bell a clear frontrunner.

His opponents in the Oct. 11 primary are retired salesman Ralph McKinney, Jr., East Durham minister Sylvester Williams, and Durham County Commissioner Joe Bowser.

Bell recently received the endorsement of the People’s Alliance, one of the three major endorsing political committees in city politics. Milo Pyne, co-chair of the left-learning PAC, is not anticipating any surprises for this race.  “We think Mayor Bell has provided good leadership,” Pyne said in a telephone interview.

Endorsements are also anticipated from the right-leaning Friends of Durham and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

So far, the Durham race has been a slow one.  But some of the candidates have caused a stir.

Bowser is caught in dust-up surrounding the July 27 firing of Department of Social Services Director Gerri Robinson.  Board of Commissioners Chairman Michael Page contends Bowser used his position as commissioner to appoint a friend, Gail Perry, as interim director. Bowser denies the accusation.

Williams is a candidate in two races. In addition to running for mayor,  Williams is also a candidate in the race for a vacant seat on the Durham County Board of Commissioners. This development came after the Board of Elections discovered that Williams’ application was accidentally misdirected to its email spam folder.

Bell has held the mayor’s office since 2001. Bowser, the only other mayoral candidate who has held elective office, is serving his fifth term as a Durham county commissioner.

Williams and McKinney ran unsuccessfully for city council in a previous election.  This mayoral race will boil down to Durham’s primary issues: neighborhood development, schools, housing, and crime.

The primary election will be held October 11, 2011 and the general election will be held on November 8.

The city of Durham has slightly more than 132,000 registered voters, 83,000 of them Democrats.

This article was reported as a part of the JOMC 253 Reporting course at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.