Published 3:17 pm, November 2, 2023
Senator Mike Woodard watches the results of the Durham mayoral primary
N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham) hopes to reunite the Durham City Council if elected mayor.
Woodard served on the Durham City Council for seven years before becoming a senator, and two of his former colleagues are concerned about his ability to lead.
Now, he’s returning to his roots and running for the mayor of Durham. Woodard finished second in the recent mayoral primary, with 29.04% of the vote. His opponent, Leonardo Williams, received 51.28% of the vote.
Cora Cole-McFadden, former director of Equal Opportunity and Equity Assurance for Durham, served on the Durham City Council from 2001 to 2017. Cole-McFadden worked alongside Woodard on the Durham City Council for all seven years of his tenure. She served as the first Black female mayor pro tempore of Durham.
When Cole-McFadden recalled her time with Woodard on City Council, she said she felt disrespected by him, which she thinks is reason enough for people not to vote for him.
“He has no respect for me as a Black woman,” Cole-McFadden said, “Especially being a Black woman and mayor pro tem.”
In response to Cole-McFadden’s criticism, Woodard said that as an elected official, he works to treat everyone with respect.
“I cannot recall a time I treated Cora disrespectfully,” Woodard said. “I felt we always had a very good, cordial working relationship, and I’ve always considered her a close ally on working to make Durham better.”
He also said that he has worked successfully with diverse groups of people professionally.
Farad Ali, current president and CEO of Asociar, was on the City Council from 2007 to 2011. Ali worked with Woodard for four years, but they were not on subcommittees together.
“He’s not a bad person, but he’s not the right person,” Ali said. He added that he is not against Mike Woodard, but not for him either.
Elaine O’Neal, the current mayor of Durham, endorses Woodard.
“His experience, vision, and passion for our community make him the ideal candidate for Mayor,” O’Neal said.
In their endorsement, Friends of Durham described Woodard as a “Swiss army knife” when helping Durham due to his political experience and ability to connect groups of people.
“Mike will bring strong leadership and a calming influence to our City Council,” the organization said.
If Woodard becomes mayor, he said one of his main goals is to reunite the City Council after conflict between current members.
“There’s no magic formula,” Woodard said “It’s just working together and putting in the effort to do it.”
He believes that the biggest challenge will be returning to a sense of peace, unity and collaboration. He said he wants to have better conversations about major issues such as housing and fair wages to make sure that all council members are on the same page.
“They don’t share with other colleagues what they’re doing, and that’s just not how a team functions,” Woodard said, before giving one of his famous sports analogies. “You can’t have the point guard dribbling the basketball in one direction and the power forward playing another corner of the court.”
Neither Ali nor Cole-McFadden believes that Woodard has the capability.
“It requires a sincere, authentic leadership that is not political,” Ali said, adding that he believes someone with cross-cultural competency is the only leader able to effectively reconnect the council.
Cole-McFadden was blunt with her statement.
“He can’t do that,” she said simply, “I wouldn’t vote for him. I’ll put it that way.”
Both Farad Ali and Cora Cole-McFadden have publicly endorsed Leo Williams.
Early voting ends on Saturday, November 4 at 3 pm. Until then, the polls are open from 8:30 am-6 pm. Residents can use this site to locate the most convenient voting location. Same-day registration is available during early voting.
Election day is Tuesday, November 7. The polls will be open from 6:30 am-7:30 pm. Voter IDs are required.
Edited by: Mia Guthrie, Isabella Geskos, Isabella Reilly and Sophia Fanning