Local Politics

Bell Beats Back Stith for Durham Mayor

Posted November 6, 2007 8:23 p.m. EST
Updated November 7, 2007 12:03 a.m. EST

— Mayor Bill Bell held off a brutal challenge from City Councilman Thomas Stith to win an unprecedented fourth term as Durham mayor Tuesday night.

The negative, often heated campaign sent voters to the polls in droves. More than 35,000 voters cast ballots in Durham – 24 percent of the city's registered voters – doubling the turnout of the last mayoral election.

With 98 percent of the votes counted, Bell captured 58 percent of the vote to Stith's 42 percent, according to unofficial results.

"People believe in me and want me to be mayor for another two years, at least," Bell said. "It's not just good for me, it's good for the city of Durham, given the type of campaign that was conducted. It appears to me they rejected that campaign."

Stith hammered at Durham's image as a crime-ridden city, calling Bell soft on crime and saying Durham needed to move in a new direction. He also criticized Bell's involvement in the Duke University lacrosse sexual assault investigation, saying his meetings with police early in the case could increase the city's liability in a pending federal lawsuit.

Three members of the Duke lacrosse team were charged with raping a stripper at a March 2006 team party. They were cleared of all charges in April and last month filed suit against the city, the Durham Police Department and various officials, claiming civil rights violations and wrongful arrest.

Bell fired back at Stith, saying the councilman has been using scare tactics over crime and the Duke case for political gain.

"I hope it sends a message to future candidates that choose to campaign in Durham and use that type of (negative) tactic. It's not going to work in Durham," Bell said.

Stith said he expects to continue a working relationship with Bell on the City Council in the coming weeks.

"This was not a personal issue for me. I certainly respect the mayor and hope he respects me. We'll continue to work together for the next few weeks until my term on the council is out," Stith said.

Meanwhile, City Council members Eugene Brown and Diane Catotti captured two of three at-large council  seats up for grabs. Unofficial totals had Catotti with almost 26 percent of the vote, followed by Brown at 21 percent.

The race for the third City Council seat remained close Tuesday night, but North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development Vice President Farad Ali garnering almost 17 percent of the vote to pull away from telecommunications worker David Harris, who finished with 15 percent, according to unofficial results.

Lawyer and Durham County Republican Party Chairman Steve Monks and retired Duke official Laney Funderburk trailed the six-person field of council candidates, with 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Voters in the city and the county also overwhelmingly approved four bond issues on the ballot.

A $20 million issue to improve city streets and sidewalks captured 74 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, a $194 million package for countywide school renovations won by a 77-23 percent margin and bonds to renovate county museums and Durham Technical Community College won 69 and 76 percent of the vote, respectively.