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Name as it appears on the ballot: Caroline Sullivan

Age: 53

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Senior Advisor, North Carolina Business Committee for Education

Years lived in Raleigh: 18

1) Given the direction of Raleigh government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?

No, the city of Raleigh is doing well; however, the Council has brought the pettiness of national politics into Raleigh. The Mayor and the City Council set the tone for the city, and it is important we set an example of collaboration, working together, and respect. As we enter this next chapter of growth and change, the problems we will face now and in the future are increasingly complex and will require the Council to work more collaboratively and respectfully and come together to find solutions for Raleigh. We need a Mayor who can bring together regional governments, higher education, business, nonprofits, and partners across the community to be more intentional and inclusive in planning how we grow so that everyone in Raleigh shares in our success. 

2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identity your priorities for your district. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces.

Raleigh is a city experiencing rapid growth and change. As Mayor, my top priorities will be:

CREATING VIBRANT, SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES – as Raleigh continues to grow we must develop long-term, balanced solutions to affordable housing, transit, and the city’s critical infrastructure. Raleigh must continue fostering the arts and investing in Dix Park, as well as parks across the city. 

PROVIDING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIESwe must put people first by investing in our residents’ abilities to maximize their potential in a changing economy. By supporting the creation and expansion of small businesses, supporting working families, providing more opportunities for youth through summer jobs and apprenticeships, and working to close the gender wage gap, we can build a city that promotes economic opportunity for all of us. 

 BUILDING OUR FUTURE TOGETHER – Raleigh’s leadership must put aside their differences and work collaboratively with partners across the community to be more intentional and inclusive in planning how we grow and ensure the opportunities of growth are shared by all of us.  

3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the city council and as an advocate for the issues that you believe are important?

I have spent my career building coalitions and solving complex problems with a balanced approach. As Vice-Chair of the Wake County Commission, I built collaborative relationships across our region to solve problems that span county and city lines. For example, I led the launch of Wake Invests in Women to address the gender pay gap, expanded school nurses in WCPSS, and developed the County’s mental health collaborative. Now as Senior Advisor to a business-led education nonprofit, I work to link businesses, both large and small, with teachers to prepare our students for the jobs of the future, including the state’s first internship program for individuals on the autism spectrum. I know how to bring people together, develop solutions, and implement long-term plans. I have seen many good plans fail due to lack of leadership or the inability of people to come together to implement them. I am ready to lead Raleigh because I have a record of bringing groups together to solve complex problems.

4) Most people agree that Raleigh faces a housing affordability crisis. Do you believe the council made a wise decision not to place a bond on this year’s ballot? Why or why not?

Raleigh faces an affordable housing crisis, and it is important that the City acts with urgency to address it. I would have liked to see the housing bond this year. When I was on the Wake County Commission, we passed the ½ cent sales tax referendum for the Wake County Transit plan, and before putting the question on the ballot, we went through a comprehensive planning process with community members to ensure that there was community buy-in on the plan. To ensure the housing bond passes when it is on the ballot next year, it is very important that there is a robust community engagement and input. 

5) Assuming the council places a bond referendum on the 2020 ballot, how much money to do you believe the city should ask for? What do you believe it should fund? Outside of a bond, what steps should the city be taking to promote housing affordability in Raleigh?

The affordable housing issue is incredibly complex. The city has discussed a $37 million or $57 million bond, and I would support the larger bond of $57 million. The bond would go to support efforts including land banking, flexible new private development, tax credit projects, homeowner rehabilitation programs, and down payment assistance. The housing bond is needed, but it is one piece to a much larger puzzle. We must ensure there are affordable housing options for everyone: for the first-year teacher, for the single mom holding down two jobs, for the seniors moving here to be close to their grandchildren, and for our most vulnerable neighbors. Raleigh needs to grow and build for the future, but it can’t come at the expense of Raleigh’s neighborhoods and longest-term residents. My first step to address affordable housing in Raleigh would be to convene an affordable housing summit to establish our shared long range housing plans. The summit would include representatives from the city, county, other municipalities, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, developers, banks, businesses, and community members. At the conclusion, a permanent affordable housing commission would be established to continuously address this issue with a long-term, collaborative plan. This plan must include strategies like working with developers to provide affordable units in new projects and increasing the availability of middle housing options, such as townhomes and duplexes, for first-time homeowners; protecting existing affordable housing units; establishing an eviction prevention program and support; leveraging resources for housing to support veterans and senior citizens, and help those with mental health or substance abuse disorders transition into community living; joining the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans’ Homelessness, as many other cities have done; looking at innovative ways to support financing and encourage home ownership; promoting transit-oriented communities around the new transit corridors; and partnering with local communities to develop community benefits agreements to help curb gentrification and support economic development. In the end, the challenge of affordable housing must be approached together – with city and county officials, nonprofits, developers, and community leaders – to find shared values, a shared vision, and a balanced approach to move this issue forward.

6) Discussions surrounding housing often turn on questions of protecting neighborhoods’ characters or promoting density in the city’s core—i.e., what kinds of new housing the city should add, and where? At the crossroads of this conversation is the rapid gentrification of Southeast Raleigh. What role should the city play in ensuring that the longtime residents of those neighborhoods can continue to afford to live there?

For Raleigh to continue to grow and thrive, increased density in certain parts of the city is needed, but more density is not the answer in all parts of the city. Where it makes sense, including in the downtown core and along planned transit corridors, increased density will help Raleigh thrive. More density in parts of town can help alleviate our affordable housing crisis. There is a supply-and-demand problem with housing because, as we grow, there are not enough places for people to live, and this pushes rents higher. Second, as we build out the planned transit corridors in the Wake County Transit Plan, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create walkable, transit-oriented communities. In one neighborhood, we can promote communities where residents can live, work, purchase groceries, go to restaurants, and enjoy time with friends and family in a dense, walkable area. As we develop along transit corridors, we also must be mindful of our impact on long-term residents in the community and ensure that the benefits of new development are shared. Community benefits agreements are one tool to help curb gentrification and support economic development in the affected areas.  As we evaluate where density is needed, early and robust citizen engagement is imperative to ensure everyone feels heard. To that end, it is imperative that the City conducts a robust planning process with community input to create an affordable housing plan with representatives from the city, county, other municipalities, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, developers, banks, businesses, and community members. At the conclusion, a permanent affordable housing commission would be established to continuously address this issue. 

7) The city currently has twenty neighborhood conservation overlay districts, which can restrict new development. Do you believe this tool is being used effectively? How would you change the city’s approach to NCODs, if at all?

Overlay districts can be structured in different ways from preserving historic character in historic neighborhoods to encouraging affordability by accommodating density. Overlays can allow more options, but we need to be mindful that overlays are site and case-specific. Our neighborhoods range from dense apartments in the downtown core to subdivisions along the edge of the city limits, and neighborhood overlay districts are one option that would allow city code to serve the needs of the city. However, like all policy tools, we must scrutinize when, why, and how it is being used and if it is the right solution for the problem that is being addressed. This might not be the right solution for all parts of our city. 

8) If you could change anything about the city’s unified development ordinance, what would it be and why?

The unified development ordinance (UDO) is a living, breathing document, and it needs to be continually evaluated to make sure it is the tool we need to effectively address the challenges we face as our city grows. The city would benefit from examining how the UDO is functioning and working to ensure it accommodates our affordable housing needs and transit infrastructure. 

9) Earlier this year, the council required homeowners who wish to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property to petition their neighbors through an overlay district process. So far, no neighborhoods have started the application process. Do you believe this is the right approach to ADUs, or do you believe they should be allowed by right? Please explain.

I believe the current regulations make it very difficult for residents to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) like granny flats. ADUs can be an important component to the expansion of affordable housing in the city, as well as providing housing options, especially for our seniors.

10) When considering new downtown development projects—e.g., John Kane’s proposed tower on Peace Street or new developments in the Warehouse District—how much consideration do you believe the council should give to automobile traffic and parking concerns?

Raleigh lacks sufficient affordable housing stock, and density is one piece of increasing housing stock. However, as we grow denser, infrastructure is going to continue to be a concern and must be one of many considerations with new development projects. Raleigh must keep up with road maintenance and prioritize the reduction of traffic and congestion. As the Wake County Transit plan is built, Raleigh residents will have more robust transit options, which will help as we grow. Many cities have eliminated or curtailed parking requirements to promote transit-oriented communities. Density allows us to facilitate some diverse modes of transportation, and therefore, we must balance parking needs of today with the changing landscape of transportation. We need to be proactive and creative to address the needs of today by not limiting ourselves to the approach of the past. 

11) Developers are eyeing at least three parcels on the outskirts of the downtown business district for twenty-plus-story buildings. Do you believe this area is an appropriate place to add height and density? What conditions should the city attach to such projects, if any?

The area in the downtown core is already very dense, and the Comprehensive Plan intends for it to be a dense area. It is a great place to create walkable mixed-use communities because it is the easiest place to retrofit infrastructure. However, as we evaluate projects that increase density, we must also consider the impact that projects have on the surrounding communities. The City should consider infrastructure needs, and community feedback and impact when adding height and density. Developers also have a role to play in addressing the affordable housing crisis. We need a plan that is predictable, consistent, and long-range, and it must be designed with input from many community members, including regional government partners, nonprofits, banks, businesses, advocacy organizations, the community, and developers. No one group can solve this problem alone. By designing a long-term, collaborative plan, Raleigh can establish the best way to move forward together to ensure housing affordability, by implementing many different strategies in conjunction with one another. These strategies may include voluntary inclusionary zoning and a fund for affordable housing. We want to ensure we are working as effectively as possible with the private sector and helping to facilitate the growth of our city, while preserving and protecting what’s important to us and promoting what is in our best interest. 

12) What are your thoughts on the city’s approach to alternative transportation options downtown? Is the city handling issues such as regulating e-scooter companies and building protected bike lanes the right way? Why or why not?

Scooters and bike lanes play an important role in first and last mile connectivity for transit. I support lowering the scooter fees. The scooter fees must be properly tailored to support the resources required for regulation, while also ensuring that fees do not curtail activity. I support multi-modal options for transportation which will require creative solutions. In certain parts of the city, scooters can help provide increased first and last mile connectivity to transit, but the scooter companies have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens. Our residents need a variety of transportation options that work for their individual needs. A major barrier to bicycling is a lack of bike lane infrastructure to ensure that bikers are safe. In the League of American Cyclists’ Bicycle Friendly rankings, Raleigh significantly lags in the percentage of major streets with bike lanes and bicycle network mileage. The lack of bicycle infrastructure is also a significant barrier to public transit, as bicycling can play a crucial role in first and last mile for transit. We must address these issues by investing in bikeable and walkable infrastructure and increasing the frequency, reliability, and number of transit routes to make bicycling and public transit viable transportation options.

13) Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance banning whole-house rentals and regulating other short-term rentals. Are you concerned about claims that this ordinance might conflict with state law? Do you believe the city’s policy is the best way to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rentals? Why or why not?

No. I believe local governments may use zoning to regulate short term rentals and adopt reasonable development standards for this land use, just as they do for other types of lodging establishments. The statute does not divest local governments of their authority to use regulations to regulate different land use. However, like any regulation, over time there may be a need for adjustments. Airbnb rules need to be approached in a way that balances neighbor concerns around noise and disruption with homeowners who wish to rent their homes. We can look at creative and innovative solutions to achieve that balance while operating within state law such as leveraging new technology for community feedback on rental properties.

14) Do you think Raleigh’s system of Citizens Advisory Councils is the best way of fostering engagement with local government? If not, how do you believe the CAC system should be reformed?

All governments can do a better job to engage the public, and Raleigh is no exception. We all need to strive to be more open and transparent. For example, I have been visiting the Citizen Advisory Council (CAC) meetings, and it has been a great experience. CAC meetings are a good way for some people to engage and learn about the city, but different people are interested in different kinds of engagement. Some of CAC live-stream their meetings, which is a step in the right direction. Meetings in the evenings, especially if you have children, can be very difficult, so we need to investigate how we can increase engagement, meet people where they are, and deploy technology to provide additional opportunities. 

15) Four council members have called for the city to join a lawsuit over the RDU Airport Authority’s quarry lease with Wake Stone. Do you support RDU’s quarry lease? Do you believe this case is something the city should involve itself in? Why or why not?

I would certainly prefer green, open space to a quarry; however, the next step for the proposed quarry on RDU Airport property will be decided by the courts in the next couple of weeks. Going forward, we need leaders who make decisions in a more transparent way, bringing together citizens, the city, county, and regional partners to find a balanced approach that is best for our entire community.

16) When Mayor McFarlane announced her decision not to seek reelection, she cited increasing incivility among council members. Do you agree with her assessment? If so, what would do to lower the temperature in city government and make the council more productive?

Yes. I believe first that Raleigh’s leaders, the Mayor and the City Council, need to work harder to get along to achieve common objectives on behalf of the people. I am tired of watching internal strife discredit the Council with the people, and the Council’s and City’s reputations have suffered because of petty bickering. There is no reason why all of us, if I am fortunate to be elected, cannot move past disagreement to move the city ahead. I will do everything that I can to bring back respect and ensure that the Council conducts the work it is trusted to do. As Mayor, I want to use a balanced approach and build a shared vision together to move Raleigh forward because only together can we tackle the complex challenges that we face as we grow. 

17) Do you believe the city needs a community police oversight board? If so, what should the board look like, and what powers should it have? Do you believe the city can or should challenge the state law that blocks access to certain police personnel records?

I support creating a review or oversight board to increase citizen engagement and allow input on policies and procedures. However, before committing to how the board would be structured or its powers, I want to listen to all Raleigh neighborhoods, law enforcement, prosecutors and defense attorneys and research how other communities have operationally created and structured their boards. I am committed to a more transparent government with checks and balances and community involvement to ensure no one is above the law. 

18) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

As Raleigh grows, we must grow in a way that does not leave anyone behind–that the opportunities provided by growth can be enjoyed by all of our residents. We need to focus on workforce-growing the talent pipeline here in Raleigh, so we can provide every young person with the opportunity to have a good job, no matter where they grew up or where they live. This is the work I do every day, as Senior Advisor to the North Carolina Business Committee for Education. I work to link businesses, both large and small, with the education and workforce systems to prepare our students for the jobs of the future. As Raleigh’s next mayor, I will continue this work by launching an Office of Diversity & Inclusion within Raleigh city government to ensure Raleigh provides opportunity for all our residents and develops a strong talent pipeline now and in our future. The future of the city depends on our ability to not just attract a talented workforce but to grow it here and we have to do both.  

One reply on “Candidate Questionnaire: Caroline Sullivan, Raleigh Mayor”

  1. concern about the tax rate on homes that seniors have occupied for many years & are on fixed incomes.
    also may apply to disabled folks who can’t afford to move.

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