Durham voters overwhelmingly choose Leo Williams as new mayor

Josh Chapin Image
Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Durham voters overwhelmingly choose Leo Williams as new mayor
In one of the most closely watched races in the state on Election Day, Durham chose a new mayor.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- In one of the most closely watched races in the state on Election Day, Durham chose a new mayor.

Voters selected City Councilman Leo Williams as the next leader of the Bull City by an overwhelming margin.

With 100% of precincts reporting, Williams had about 64% of the vote in his race against state Sen. Mike Woodard.

They were the top vote-getters in last month's primary, with Williams garnering about 51% of the vote and Woodard about 29%.

Incumbent Mayor Elaine O'Neal decided not to seek reelection.

"How do you make sure this city works for all people? I don't, we do," Williams said at his victory party at the Velvet Hippo, one of Durham's newest venues and rooftop bars. "That's the paradigm shift it's going to take. Mayor O'Neal said this as well. If you think one person to do this, it's never going to get done, but I will work to build a capacity for all of us to be able to do this together."

ABC11 was there as Williams took the concession call from Woodard. He stood with his wife and business partner, Zweli by his side. His mother and son Isiah, were there, too.

Woodard watched those results come in over at LouElla Wine and Beer on Geer Street.

The former Durham council member told ABC11 that he was proud of the campaign he ran.

"I knew early on that we were going to be the underdog," Woodard said. "That we were going against the status quo on the council, but that's why I ran. I think we needed to call out some of the things council had done or not done and that's why I ran."

Williams and Woodard were both out and about Tuesday making their final rounds hoping to push their campaigns over the top.

ELECTION 2023: Check live results

Early Tuesday morning, Woodard voted at the North Carolina School of Math and Science.

He has represented Durham in the state legislature since 2012, and before that, he served on the Durham city council.

Williams has been on the council since 2021 but has been an organizer for years. He has also been long involved in Durham Public Schools teaching band.

"So, I'm just existing," Williams said. "Doing my traditional, you know, going to 50 poll sites on Election Day, so I'm making my rounds. Yeah. I'm here, and I'm waiting for tonight for the results because I'm ready to get to work."

Woodard felt optimistic as the day unfolded.

"I feel a really good vibe," he said. "I feel like people are excited about the direction this city is going in and see the need for experienced, knowledgeable leadership, and I think that's hopefully how they're going to vote today."

And now, Woodard returns to Raleigh to continue his work in the state Senate.

As for Williams, the new mayor will be sworn in early next month.


There were five people running for three city council seats in Durham.

Nate Baker, Javiera Caballero and Carl Rist finished as the top three vote-getters.

Caballero, an incumbent, will serve another term, but another incumbent will not.

Voters largely rejected the reelection bid of at-large council member Monique Holsey-Hyman, who was appointed to serve in 2022.

Holsey-Hyman was cleared by the SBI in September after accusations of extortion were leveled at her. Whether the controversy hurt her campaign or not is up for discussion, but she received barely more than half the votes of Rist, the third-place finisher.