The pay is low, the criticism deep and the race long—especially when it comes to city and town races. Being a city magazine, and with the City Council election Oct. 6, we asked Raleigh’s incumbents and new candidates: why are you running—really?
But wait. You don’t care, do you? After all, you live in one of the best places in the nation, one of the best places to work, one of the best places to start a business. Things are going swimmingly, right?
For now. But the city’s on the cusp of big change, and there are eight folks—of 18 candidates—who will decide whether or not Raleigh keeps getting accolades.
All of these people are passionate. Some are mad. Others frustrated. All have specific opinions about how—and whether—Raleigh should grow and change. A few of the issues:
An acronym for Unified Development Ordinance—construction and zoning rules. In other
words, what can you build behind a neighborhood? Next to a school?
“This is the first major change in our zoning code in 50 years that impacts people’s most important investment, their homes,” says Mayor Nancy McFarlane.
The first UDO community meeting in July was crowded and many didn’t get to a chance to weigh in.
“We should have been better prepared for the overflow crowd at the recent public hearing on UDO remapping,” says McFarlane. “All deserve to be heard, which is why we extended the hearing and moved it to a larger venue for the second date.
That initial meeting prompted newcomer Edie Jeffreys to run for District E.
“I have spent many nights and weekends for the last 15 years involved in trying to protect my neighborhood and helping others protect their neighborhoods from incompatible development, said Jeffreys.
“The UDO zoning code will have an impact on the city for decades to come. I want to help wring out negative impacts in the UDO so that neighborhoods and citizens have predictability about what is being built within and on the peripheries of their neighborhoods. I want the UDO to protect the value of their properties.”
It also inspired Craig Ralph (At Large) to file. “It was 18 months ago when I watched the city council vote in favor for specific developments within my neighborhood that were against the wishes of the majority of those residing in that area,” says Ralph. “It was at that moment I decided to look into the behaviors of the council and compare them to the needs and wants of our citizens.” Ralph is also concerned with budgetary issues. “The number one issue facing our city is its budget,” he says. “The city is over $1 billion in debt. One-third of our budget goes to serving the interest on our debt. If we continue to move in this direction, we will never be able to afford the next big thing for Raleigh or be able to offer the quality of life our citizens deserve.”
Determined to fight
Candidate David Cox (District B) has cut his teeth on the UDO. In 2013, when Publix lobbied for a location on a vacant lot at the corner of Dunn and Falls of Neuse Roads, Cox noticed the land wasn’t zoned for it. He led a fight against rezoning, and Publix eventually backed out.
The City Council and planning department have gone back and forth over rezoning that parcel. On May 12, the council agreed it should remain as is, but the planning department recently proposed it again for rezoning.
“Clearly, I believe that the rezoning and subsequent remapping of properties at Dunn and Falls of Neuse have not been handled appropriately for numerous reasons,” says Cox. “More importantly, having learned a great deal about the City’s Comprehensive Plan and the UDO, I am very concerned about the shortcomings in the UDO that will lead to expansive developments that will harm neighborhoods.
How we’re communicating
Newcomer Ashton Mae Smith (District D) says Raleigh’s Millennials need a voice.
“The average age of Raleigh residents is 32, and it’s important for the Millennial generation to have an active role in how we’re building our city.” As for the UDO, Smith says the communication surrounding it is poor. “Rezoning 30 percent of the city is quite an undertaking, and education is a key component,” she says. “While the city websites offer a substantial amount of information, it’s overwhelming for most and especially for those unfamiliar with planning and zoning. “What if, instead, we provided citizens with a Google Earth-like experience for learning about the proposed changes?,” continues Smith. “In order to engage citizens, we need to find meaningful ways to show them how government decisions affect them.”
Communicating with constituents was a common concern among all candidates.
“When I attended the public hearing on the UDO, it became clear to me that the city needs to do a better job explaining to people what these changes mean and how the changes will impact them,” says Dickie Thompson, running for District A. “These are complicated issues, and I’d like to see the city make it easier for people to understand them.”
DeAntony Collins, running for District E, says poor communication
with constituents often leads to disengagement. “Governing can be difficult, but that level of difficulty is often exacerbated when our leaders don’t effectively educate and communicate their intentions with citizens and small business owners,” says Collins. “Concerned residents and business owners, in my view, aren’t looking for government to fix all their problems; they want to be heard and consulted—to have their phone calls returned, to feel understood. This concept affects every form and function of our government—from the future of Dix Park to the highly debated UDO rezoning issue.”
Communication issues prompted Mary-Ann Baldwin to run for an At Large seat in 2007.
“The city issues that first prompted my interest—the Plensa art debacle and the sanitation worker’s strike—were impacted by poor communication, which is my area of expertise. Because of that, several people encouraged me to run for City Council. I thought they were crazy.”
Baldwin had never even considered running for office despite her previous campaign work. Overcoming her own hesitation about putting her name on the ballot took some time.
“After some serious conversations with many people (50 to be exact), I had a game plan,” says Baldwin. “I pulled together a platform of things I Mary-Ann Baldwin (I) wanted to accomplish. I knew how much money I could raise, I knew I had support, and I knew who would work polls for me, walk neighborhoods with me or throw an event for me. But I didn’t pull the trigger until I got over my fear of failure. When I realized that even if I didn’t win, I would go on a true journey, that was the moment. It really came down to being comfortable with losing.”
“CityCamp led to a new email subscription service that people can use to stay up to date on city government news . . . the Downtown Raleigh app will be rolling out later this year to help people find new restaurants and avoid road closures,” says Gaylord.
Corey Branch was leading a discussion with high schoolers about giving back when he decided to make his first run for office in 2011 for District C.
“I realized the message I was giving the kids was actually resonating with me,” he says.
Branch didn’t win in 2011 but instead filled a vacant seat on the Raleigh Transit Authority to gain experience about his hometown.
“The blight of Tower Shopping center . . . as well as the disproportionate economic growth that District C experiences are constantly on my mind,” Branch says.
Blight affects safe and affordable housing in Raleigh, too, says District C incumbent Eugene Weeks.
“There’s not enough affordable housing to accommodate the growth in Raleigh,” Weeks says. “I want to see homelessness for veterans and our citizens eliminated in our city. “
Newcomer J.B. Buxton (District A) says Raleigh is giving its teens short shrift.
“The number of teenagers in our work community with job experience has dropped almost in half since 2000—45 percent to 25 percent,” says Buxton. “One approach is a stronger commitment to summer youth employment. Similar programs in Louisville and Baltimore involve 2,500 and 5,000 youth respectively. Raleigh’s program? 165.”
Branch said he would like to see more evening and nighttime activities available at community centers for teens in District C.
Too much government
Although Kay Crowder (District D) in an incumbent, this is her first run for City Council.
“When my late husband Thomas Crowder was ill with cancer, he asked me to take over his seat if he didn’t beat the disease,” Crowder says. “Together we had been living and breathing city politics every day for 15 years, fully half our married life.”
Crowder says the legislature’s hand is too heavy in city politics.
“The primary city issue that has been handled terribly is our capability to self-govern,” she says. “The NC General Assembly recently took away the Business Privilege License, which was an important revenue stream. The legislature is also working to do away with Statutory Protest Petition, an important zoning tool that ensures citizens are heard.”
Eddie Woodhouse (District A) decided to file in light of a recent city government issue he disagrees with.
“I fear a city government that is overreaching and too controlling,” says Woodhouse, citing the recent curfew on downtown restaurant patios after 1 a.m. on weekends. “Raleigh has become less neighborhood- and business-friendly.”
Mayoral Candidate Robert Weltzin, challenging Nancy McFarlane, maintains the issue was based on the opinions of a few.
“Raleigh has gone to great lengths to ensure that our nightlife and evening entertainment offerings continue to drive traffic, revenue and business to areas like Glenwood South, but has more recently pushed to limit the hours during which businesses can operate on their patios, not as a result of receiving pressure from citizens, but rather because of a few influential individuals complaining about things inherent to living in a downtown area. While these sorts of restrictions might make sense in a smaller town, they have no place in a city of Raleigh’s stature and status.
Walkable and (Ride-able) city
Newcomer Matt Tomasulo, running for an At Large seat, is the creator of WalkRaleigh (the movement behind the downtown signs indicating how far it is to walk to certain destinations—a concept he’s bringing to other cities as well). And he’s just as passionate about cycling, particularly about a potential city program, Bike Share, that would provide corrals of sharable bikes to encourage bike travel for short distances.
“Raleigh Bike Share was the tipping point for my decision to run,” he says. “As a bike rider and downtown resident, I had no idea that there was any threat to funding the Bike Share program—especially after the city won a sizable capital improvement grant and the consultant’s feasibility report came beck favorably.”
Riding of a different kind—on city roads—is a concern for incumbent John Odom (District B):
“As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, keeping up with infrastructure is very important. We passed a highway bond recently for $75 million. I should have voted for $150 million. When re-elected, I will push for another road bond.”
Editor’s note: We contacted all 18 candidates multiple times for this story; seventeen responded.