Local Politics

Former judge, councilwoman to square off for Durham mayor

Posted October 5, 2021 6:21 a.m. EDT
Updated October 11, 2021 11:23 a.m. EDT

— Retired judge Elaine O'Neal and City Councilwoman Javiera Caballero will vie to become Durham's next mayor after easily topping a seven-person field in Tuesday's primary.

With all precincts reporting, O'Neal had 68 percent of the vote to Caballero's 25 percent, according to unofficial results. None of the other candidates had even 3 percent.

The two women will square off on Nov. 2 for the chance to be Durham's second female mayor. Sylvia Kerckhoff held the job from 1993 to 1997.

Current Mayor Steve Schewel announced in May that he wouldn't seek a third two-year term, setting off a scramble to succeed him.

Schewel endorsed Caballero, who has served on the City Council for three years and worked as an educator and education consultant. Meanwhile, Schewel's predecessor, longtime Mayor Bill Bell, endorsed O'Neal, who spent 24 years on the bench and later headed Durham's racial equity task force.

Durham's ongoing battle against gun violence will be a major issue for the new mayor, as well as the next police chief.

While violent crime in Durham is down slightly from a year ago, Durham police say it's still higher than the three-year average.

"We need to re-imagine community safety," Caballero said. "Right now, when you call 911, regardless of what your issue is, the chances of an armed police officer showing up at your door is pretty high. That's the response you're going to get, but that doesn't mean it's the right response."

"We have to all pull together to make crime go down. It's not a one size fits all. How we get crime to go down is to make sure people have an affordable place to live [and] they have a good job," O'Neal said.

Affordable housing and more balanced development and job creation across the city are also issues Durham leaders have tried to address in recent years.

Two City Council races also were on the primary ballot on Tuesday.

Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman will go up against Marion Johnson in her re-election bid, while Councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton will face off against Sylvester Williams.

Only about 10 percent of Durham's registered voters cast ballots in the election.

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