Campaigns shift to Nov. 7 general election after low turnout in Durham primary

Tom George Image
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
After low Durham primary turnout, campaigns shift to Nov. 7 election
There was a lot at stake in the Durham primary for mayor and council, but you wouldn't know that from the low turnout.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- There was a lot at stake in the Durham primary for mayor and council, but you wouldn't know that from the low turnout.

Just 11% of voters in the Bull City cast ballots, but those who did were able to narrow the field and set the stage for the general election in November.

The eight candidates vying for mayor after Elaine O'Neal announced she would not seek re-election are now down to the final two -- the general election is now a one-on-one contest between Councilmember Leo Williams and State Sen. Mike Woodard.

Meanwhile, the field of 12 candidates for City Council is down to six candidates who will fight for three open seats:

Those hopefuls are Nate Baker, a member of Durham's Planning Commission; incumbent council member Javiera Caballero; Carl Rist, a longtime Durham resident, activist and volunteer; Khalilah Karim, a social justice advocate; Sheila Ann Huggins, a lawyer and former City of Durham employee; and incumbent council member Monique Holsey-Hyman.

Some voters who spoke to ABC11 admitted they were part of the 89% of voters who missed the boat Tuesday but said that won't happen again.

"We have a chance to boost it in November, and I'm just encouraging everyone make sure you go and vote," said Janet Nesbit.

Community leaders said they believe the narrowed field will make the contrasts more clear for voters.

"It's pretty crystallized as far as what your choices are and what the agendas are for the different candidates," said former NC House Minority Leader Larry Hall.

Some voters who are waiting until November said they believe doing their homework will be easier this time around.

"Definitely the thought of looking into eight candidates vs. two, it's a much more feasible task in my eyes," Juliet Stevenson said.

Top of mind for many voters are the same issues we heard in the primary -- affordable housing, public safety, and supporting city workers, especially after the sanitation worker walkouts.

It's something the two leading candidates for mayor are using to draw contrasts and campaign on.

"This a right-to-work state. I understand that, but you know when it's time to stand up for workers' rights, this is in my DNA, this is what I do, so I didn't mind working behind the scenes to make sure they understood what was coming," Williams said. "It was gonna happen regardless, that's called leadership in my book."

"We need to make sure that we have an equitable pay plan that compensates them fairly and shows that we value them and helps up close the gaps in some of the vacancies in our critical departments," Woodard said.

And with the city at a political crossroads, those candidates will again have to fight for every vote.

"Make sure you have skin the in game, you put something in and then you stay in contact with whoever represents you moving forward with your ideas and your desires," Hall advised.

The general election is Nov. 7, and just as in the primary, voter ID will be required to cast a ballot.