Single-shot voting: It was a tumultuous run-up to the General Election after incumbent City Council member Thomas Stith, a darling of development interests, engineered a turnaround and gained the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. He did it by stacking the political committee and filling the hall of the general membership meeting with supporters. The Committee hadn’t endorsed him in the primary, instead supporting Diane Catotti in a nascent coalition with the progressive People’s Alliance. But the Committee changed horses mid-race, dumping Catotti for Stith. That made the PA fearful Catotti might lose. So, since voters were choosing three council members, some in the PA urged supporters to vote for only Catotti (called single-shot voting), thereby depriving other candidates of votes that might hurt her. But the strategy backfired–Catotti came in first, and it hurt candidate Diane Wright, a progressive who had the endorsement of both the PA and the Committee. Wright came in fourth, edged by Stith for third. Eugene Brown ran second.
Split council: The election leaves three Durham City Council members in the pro-growth camp (John Best Jr., Howard Clement, Thomas Stith) and three on the more controlled growth side (Cora Cole-McFadden, Diane Catotti and Mayor Bill Bell). That leaves Brown, a real estate agent who has said he supports better-managed growth, in the swing position.
Rapid UNC Development: Neighborhood organizing won big in this election, as citizens expressed increasing concern about what the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is planning for a new, 1,000-acres campus off Airport Road. Incumbents Bill Strom and Jim Ward are joined by challengers Sally Greene and Cam Hill on a council that will be wary at least and, in the opinion of some, downright hostile to fast-tracking any large-scale work on Carolina North, the school’s name for the project. Strom, Greene and Hill were all endorsed of the Coalition of Neighbors near Campus, a newly formed grassroots group that’s vowing to keep close watch over any plans for university expansion. UNC architect Dianne Bachman came in a distant fifth place. Keep an eye out for how things play in Raleigh, where most legislators haven’t shown a keen respect for the nuances of town-gown relations.
Dissent: Write-in candidate Jeff Vanke lost in the polls, but by winning 40 percent of the vote he took some of the shine off now five-term incumbent Mayor Mike Nelson’s victory. That a write-in candidate would do so well underlines the fact that there are definite rumblings of discontent in various corners of town. It’s still unclear what effect Vanke’s bid and his endorsement by Board of Aldermen member Jacquelyn Gist–who also endorsed board challenger Steven Rose–will have in the long run as the town gets down to business on downtown initiatives and review of controversial developments. At the same time voters sent Nelson a message, they also ushered back into office aldermen Joal Hall Broun and Alex Zaffron and elected EmPowerment executive director Mark Chilton. Chilton, the top vote-getter by a slim margin over Broun, attributed his victory to old-fashioned door to door campaigning. (A former member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, Chilton now bears the distinction of being the only person elected to the boards of both towns.)
Slum Housing: The free-market days of Fetzer & Coble, when the City Council balked at making landlords supply heat (that’s right, heat–in at least one room!) are over. Now, a five-member Democratic majority–bolstered by the addition of architect Thomas Crowder, a neighborhood leader, from Central Raleigh’s District D–is ready to push back against the slumlords with some rules. You know, like, if you rent a house to four people, you need parking for four cars? And not on the front lawn (next to the old refrigerator). First step: License the absentee landlords, so city inspectors know where to look. Second step: Hire some inspectors.
Convention Center: It’s Mayor Charles Meeker’s baby. And Meeker’s nemesis, Kieran Shanahan, didn’t run for re-election. Question: Will it be a big, ugly box? Or the first example of good urban design in downtown Raleigh since, um, …?
School Diversity: Voters here (and in Apex and Holly Springs) knocked Jeff York off the Wake school board in favor of neighborhood-schools guy Ron Margiotta. Then they added the developers’ friends, Mayor-elect Ernie McAlister and Mike Joyce, to the Cary Town Council, signaling a return to the westward-ho days of yore. Bottom line: As Cary pushes west with posh subdivisions, the school board’s job of maintaining racial (correction: economic) balance in the schools via judicious “reassignments” from Raleigh gets tougher–something York cared about, but Margiotta, so far, doesn’t.