In the weeks since Mayor Nancy McFarlane announced she wouldn’t seek a fifth term—and Charles Francis, her 2017 opponent confirmed he would run for the top seat again this year—all eyes were on Mary Ann Baldwin. She didn’t disappoint.
The five-term Councilor stepped away from her at-large seat in 2017, citing a desire to make a difference outside the system and work to cultivate future leaders. But those close to her know that Baldwin has considered running for mayor in the past and also know that, at a time when the council is deeply divided on issues of growth, Baldwin feels a sense of urgency in repositioning the city on what she believes is the right path for its future. And for many of McFarlane’s (many) proponents, sad to see the mayor go, “the notorious MAB” looks like a good replacement.
Baldwin, the executive director for the Holt Brothers Foundation, is unapologetically pro-development in contrast to members of the current council majority who favor “slow” or “smart” growth. Baldwin has been at odds with recent council decisions and non-decisions, including its reluctance to move on allowing accessory dwelling units, its seeming wariness of allowing for density and its perceived over-regulation of new industries and technology, including short term rentals like Airbnb and electric scooters. Baldwin will likely align herself with a group of young, progressive candidates running for district and at large seats who share her frustrations with the current council—a smart strategy as the city’s population, and voting majority, is skewing ever younger and more diverse.
But there are those who feel the council is in need of a “reset” and—given Baldwin’s past council experience and less than warm relationships with some current members who could hang on to their seats this fall—make the argument that the city needs someone new at its helm.
It’s a matter of game theory. Baldwin knows she has a lot of support in Raleigh but her path to the mayor’s seat won’t be easy, or pretty. She has thick skin but this municipal election likely won’t look like anything Raleigh’s seen for a while. “Safe” seats will be credibly contested. Mud will be slung. The one certainty is that, come 2020, the city will have a new mayor in place.
Let the games begin.
We’re very far away from knowing who Raleigh’s next mayor will be but that’s never stopped us from speculating before! With three confirmed candidates and a bunch of would-be candidates on the record as not running, the field is still wide open in this horse race. Here are the jockeys whose names have been thrown around and their odds based on what we know so far. The frontrunners are clear, the dark horses here for a reason. The best way for your horse to win? Take it to the polls in October.
Charles Francis 3/2
Francis, an attorney, announced first and therefore starts out head and shoulders above everyone else. His message of change and platform focused on aggressively addressing the city’s systemic problems brought him within about 6,000 votes against McFarlane in 2017 (though he lost by a wider margin in the runoff). We’re willing to bet Francis will hang on to most of his supporters from last time. Plus, there’s no popular Mayor McFarlane to contend with this year…
Mary Ann Baldwin 2/1
Which brings us to MAB. Like the mayor, Baldwin has her share of ardent supporters who could tip a race in her favor and her platform aligns with McFarlane’s. If it comes down to Baldwin vs. Francis, it will hinge on what kind of change voters want: if they want the city to go in a whole new direction, they’ll vote for Francis. If they want a more forceful version of McFarlane, they’ll vote for Baldwin. What if they’re happy with the way things are going but want to see a council reset?
Caroline Sullivan 3/1
Then, they’ll vote for Caroline Sullivan. Said to be McFarlane’s pick, the former Wake Commissioner was drawn out of her district in 2016 and now works in Gov. Cooper’s office. She would bring a fresh but still progressive perspective, relevant experience and the distance needed to help minimize the infighting that has hamstrung the council recently. How will the race between Sullivan and Baldwin shake out? How will their supporters split? And where will that leave Francis?
Sig Hutchinson 8/1
He hasn’t said no, and he may feel he can effect more change in key areas like parks and affordable housing as mayor rather than as a Wake Commissioner. But Hutchinson won re-election in the fall and the timing just doesn’t seem right somehow. Maybe we’ll see him run for mayor in 2021?
Bonner Gaylord 12/1
Before losing his District E seat to Stef Mendell in 2017, many believed Bonner Gaylord would succeed McFarlane. But since he’s been off the council, the North Hills operations director has shown little interest in returning. Though well-funded and well connected, few think Gaylord has the appetite to return to a council that could continue to be bitterly divided. Honestly, who can blame him?
Paul Fitts 16/1
Paul Fitts here is actually just a stand-in for whichever Republican the local GOP persuades to run in the ostensibly nonpartisan race—because, well, there’s always someone. Your run-of-the-mill Raleigh voter cares more about transit and affordable housing over curbing city spending these days, so Fitts, or whoever the candidate will be, is very much the underdog. But, as we all know, crazier things have happened.
A different version of this story appears in Raleigh Magazine’s April issue. It has been updated online to reflect recent campaign announcements.