Who’s Running for Mayor of Durham?


After 16 years (2001-2017) of serving the Durham Community as mayor, Bill Bell has chosen not to run for re-election. 

So who’s going to be running for mayor? 

The filing period for a Durham mayoral candidacy ended at 12p.m. on Friday, June 21. 

Seven candidates filed (but one dropped out): 

  • Councilman Steve Schewel
  • Farad Ali
  • Pierce Freelon
  • Tracy Drinker
  • Shea Ramirez
  • Sylvester Williams
  • Michael Johnson (dropped)


Councilman Steve Schewel

Councilman Steve Schewel, 66, has been a member of the Durham City Council since 2011. 

He is the founder of the Durham based ‘The Independent Weekly’ and served as president until he sold it in 2012. 

He served on the Durham Public School’s Board of Education from 2004-2008, two of them as vice-chair. 

He graduated from Duke University in 1973, achieved his masters degree from Columbia University in 1974, and earned his Ph.D. in Education from Duke in 1983.

He is also a visiting assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. 

Website: https://www.stevefordurham.com/


Farad Ali


Farad Ali, 33, is the president and CEO of ‘The Institute,’ an economic development organization. 

He is a former city council member having served from 2007-2011.

Mr. Ali achieved his M.B.A. from Campbell University and a B.S.B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He has also served as the chair of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority since 2012. 




Pierce Freelon


Pierce Freelon, 33, is the founder of Blackspace, hip-hop musician, adjunct lecturer, community organizer, and son of famous architect Phil Freelon and Grammy-winning singer Nnenna Freelon.

He holds a B.A. in African and African American Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel hill and a M.A. from Syracuse University in Pan-African Studies. 

 He is also a former board member of the North Carolina Arts Council.

Email: pierce@freelonfordurham.com




Tracy Drinker, 56, is a retired police officer (1999-2016) and board member of NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Durham since 2011.

Originally from New York, Mr. Drinker served in the United States Air Force before joining the New York Police Department.



Shea Ramirez, 44, is the owner of Tax Genius and SHee’Bella Modeling and Talent Agency.

She is from Greensboro, NC, and earned her B.A. in Public Administration from North Carolina Central University in 1999. In 2016 she graduated with her M.A. in Entertainment Business from FullSail University. 

She has dubbed herself “The People’s Mayor.”


Sylvester Williams, 62, is a retired financial analyst. 

He has ran for mayor in the past, and has served on the Youth Services Advisory Board. 



Michael Johnson (dropped), 59, is a retired citizen and former co-owner of ABC Cab Co.

However, 5 days after the filing period ended, on July 26, Mr. Johnson announced he will be no longer running for mayor. 



The general election for mayor will be held on November 7 with the primary being held on October 10







About Ray Palma 12 Articles
Hi, I'm Raymond T. Palma, and I am currently a Junior at Riverside High School in Durham, North Carolina. My email is raytpalma@gmail.com


    • He will certainly be missed. What’s an issue you feel strongly about and are you planning on supporting any of these candidates in the near future Chris?

  1. Durham is definitely going to be a lot different without Bill Bell…. The guy has been our mayor since 2001!

    I hope whoever is elected is going to be able to continue The Mayors Poverty Initiative and continue to grow and improve the community.

    • I am not sure about the others but Councilman Schewel has told me personally that affordable housing is one of the biggest issues he would like to address so he will definitely be continuing the MPI.

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