Editor’s note: Voting tallies Durham today will decide whether three incumbent City Council members keep seats that three challenger candidates very much want. They will also decide the fate of a $95 million affordable housing bond that Mayor Steve Schewel and City Council members support. 9th Street Journal reporters are covering today’s election results as they unfold. Follow their reporting here.
Top vote-getters: Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece
The election night celebration at 106 Main ended in cheers, hugs and excitement as unofficial vote tallies had City Council members Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece, and Javiera Caballero keeping their seats.
Johnson and Reece, who maintained fairly steady leads throughout the night, expressed gratitude for getting the chance to continue to represent Durham residents.
They also addressed the discontent that some community members voiced throughout the election cycle.
“Tonight’s election shows us that there is strong public support for the Bull City Together Platform, but also that there are people in this city who don’t feel heard by our current political structure,” Reece said.
Both incumbents spoke about the importance of direct community engagement in the next four years to address concerns brought up in the last few months. Reece made clear he knows plenty of work awaits.
“I ran for re-election not because we had fixed everything in four years but because we were making great progress and we wanted to keep doing this work,” Reece said.
Probably loudest among the criticism in recent months was disappointment by some that the incumbents who won Tuesday had opposed hiring more police officers this year.
“We can do a lot more and there are a lot of good reasons for us to invest more in community engagement, I think it makes for a stronger democracy,” Johnson said.
But first it was time to enjoy a victory.
“I definitely feel relieved, it feels good to have it all over with,” Johnson said. — Cameron Oglesby
Gunn’s non-concession speech
Tucked away between two brick walls at the Boricua Soul restaurant on an otherwise quiet and empty American Tobacco Campus, Joshua Gunn addresses his crowd of unwavering supporters seconds after votes from all Durham precincts were reported.
Gunn had notched 18,490 votes, putting him in fourth place just below Councilwoman Javiera Caballero, with 18,885 votes. Beer bottles and a stray bag of Joshua Gunn for City Council pins sat on a nearby wooden table, under strings of glowing yellow lights. Although all precinct votes were in and Gunn is still 395 votes shy of a council seat, he spoke with determination and a cool, calm confidence.
“We have provisional ballots and we have absentee ballots, that have not been counted,” Gunn said. “We can make up this margin with those votes.”
Applause erupts from the crowd as Gunn continues. “We are far from a night of concessions, to be clear,” he said.
Earlier in the night, Gunn had slipped for a bit into third place, pushing Caballero down to fourth with 63% of precincts reporting. The margin was razor thin, as Gunn was ahead by less than 50 votes.
“I’m excited,” he said then. “This is just exciting.”
As more votes were processed, however, Gunn fell behind Caballero once again. With 95% of precincts reporting, Gunn had notched 18,076 votes against Caballero’s 18,287.
With the race drawing to a close, nervous energy and excitement radiated from the small crowd. Supporters turned their heads away from their conversations with each other to fix them on a TV screen updating results.
When the screen read that 100% of the precinct votes had been counted, Gunn didn’t miss a beat. He grabbed a microphone and spoke to a crowd still filled with hope.
“We got 19,000 votes in the 2019 general election for city council,” he said. “In the primary, we got 6,700 votes. We tripled our votes.”
Applause momentarily drowned out Gunn’s voice. The 4% margin between Gunn and Caballero is well beyond the range of a recount, Gunn said. He tells his supporters that he’s not giving up yet.
Although the first-time candidate noted he is unfamiliar with the recount process, Gunn said he believes this election warrants a double check.
On Nov. 14, the board of elections will meet to tally up any outstanding ballots, including provisional and absentee ballots. They will determine then whether a recount is called for.
About 20 minutes after Gunn made his speech, the watch party began to thin out. Gunn, surrounded by an intimate group of supporters and his wife and two young children, looked tired, but not defeated.
“It’s hard right now to appreciate the fact that almost 20,000 people voted for a first-time candidate,” Gunn said. “I’m trying to remind myself of the scale of what we have accomplished, but ultimately, you want to win.”
“I’m going to go home tonight, lick my wounds, say a prayer, and hope we wake up in the morning to some good news,” he said. — Caroline Petrow-Cohen
In a dark, loud pub on East Main Street cheers erupt as the polls close. The Bull City Alliance is victorious, with incumbent city council candidate Javiera Caballero appearing to beat challenger Joshua Gunn by less than 500 votes
After a close vote with precinct 3 and 31 casting the deciding votes, Caballero emerges from the corner of a booth she was sheltered in, and the crowd erupts.
“I feel good but we have a little work to do. One step forward in accomplishing the work we need to do,” Caballero says.
Amongst the cheers, Caballero stands up on the table, the Durham city flag centered behind her.
After being appointed to Steve Schewel’s vacant city council seat in 2017, Caballero explains that she chose to do something different with her city council appointment. She specifically chose to work with co-council members Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson, also winners Tuesday.
The three of them even campaigned on a shared Bull City Together platform. Through their 98 proposed policies, Caballero tells the crowd that they are choosing to do something “different, harder, and more courageous.”
Caballero ends her victory speech with a deep breath and a long list of thank yous. Her family, her campaign manager, the Bull City Together team.
Despite a tumultuous campaign, including an accusation against her citizenship with no evidence offered, Caballero says she is particularly grateful for those who stood by her campaign. “It was bullshit but also emotionally tragic,” she says.
“Pick people who love you, respect you, and hold you in dignity,” she says.
A cheer of “te quiero” breaks through the crowd in response: “I love you.”
And as she steps off the table into the crowd of supporters, the rhythm of “si se puede,” chants and claps permeates the pub.
“Yes you can.” — Michaela Towfighi
Mayor gets $95 million housing bond
Steve Schewel was elected to a second term as mayor, as expected. But he had even more to celebrate Tuesday night.
In February, during his city address, Schewel introduced a plan for a $95 million bond. An ambitious and aggressive solution to Durham’s affordable housing crisis, the bond is expected to create 1,600 affordable housing units, among other initiatives.
Today, the bond passed with 75.89% of votes in favor. Schewel can confidently say he now has the funds and resources to accomplish his housing goals.
The bond is a “big bite out of the apple,” for an affordable housing issue that has permeated all corners of the city, the mayor said.
In a victory speech following incumbent re-elected candidates Javiera Caballero, Charlie Reece, and Jillian Johnson, Schewel thanked the crowd for their continued support of him as mayor and for voting to enact the bond.
Schewel said the City Council worked to prepare the city for the bond and make the case for the affordable housing solution. “Everyone knew the problem but we needed a big, bold solution,” he said.
The next step for Schewel and the City Council is to ensure the bond is implemented according to their five-year plan.
“It is going to be hard, we are going to make mistakes but with our leadership it will work,” he said. — Michaela Towfighi
No upset by a hair?
With all precincts reporting, it looks like incumbent Javiera Caballero just squeaked by challenger Joshua Gunn. Our reporter Kathleen Hobson is checking whether a recount will be required with such close results. And whether all absentee votes have been tallied.
Checking the Duke student vote
The cricket chirps were especially loud outside Precinct 5 tonight. The Patterson Community Center along Crest Street was nearly empty except for the occasional passing car or student voter walking up to cast a ballot. Among the visitors were Duke Professor Gunther Peck and Democratic U.S. Rep John Sarbanes of Maryland.
Longtime friends and former college roommates, they are avid promoters of voter rights. They dropped by the voting station to check on Duke University student voter turnout.
In the recent past, Duke students could vote at early voting sites on Duke’s campus. Like others, Peck, who is director of Duke’s Hart Leadership Program, and Sarbanes say loss of voting on a college campus can be a barrier to student turnout. Peck was a catalyst for Duke’s decision this year to provide free Lyft rides to get students who live on West Campus to Patterson, their assigning voting spot. He’s one to do anything he can to get people to vote.
“It ought to be as easy as possible. The fact that you don’t have a car shouldn’t be the reason you don’t vote,” Peck said.
This belief is what motivated Peck and Sarbanes to stand on the sidewalk outside of the precinct and ask students about their Lyft and voting experience. Sarbanes is sponsor of “For the People Act of 2019,” a bill that passed the House but has been blocked by Senate Republicans. The bill would make Election Day a federal holiday and require more political organizations to disclose the names of donors.
“Ideally voting is and can be the most empowering thing you do as a citizen,” said Sarbanes.
A total of 230 ballots were cast at Precinct 5 before it closed at 7:30 pm. Larry Partee, chief judge for Precinct 5, said that this was about a fourfold increase from primary voter turnout.
He noted a large number of those votes were cast by Duke students, a fact facilitated by advocates like Peck.
“We’ve seen a lot of elections that turned on just a few votes at all levels, so the notion that every vote counts is just a part of our DNA,” said Sarbanes. — Cameron Oglesby
Early voting results suggest that re-election of all three City Council incumbents may not be a sure thing. Incomplete numbers have incumbent Javiera Caballero barely beating challenger Joshua Gunn.
It’s Election Day in Durham. So what’s at stake?
Citizens will decide if three City Council incumbents running on one campaign platform keep their seats. Or if any of three challengers take office instead.
Voters will also say yea or nay to a $95 million housing bond that Mayor Steve Schewel says Durham needs to expand affordable housing during a Bull City building boom.
Schewel is on the ballot again and is expected to easily win his second term. Here’s our update on how the mayor has fared so far on his 2017 campaign goals. You can learn more about Sylvester Williams, the mayor’s one challenger, too.
Polls stay open until 7:30 pm today Durham. Go vote! And look for election results updates tonight right here.
At top: Photo by Cameron Beach