Our Raleigh endorsements in four words: Down with the NIMBYs. 

Under the control of this pining-for-the-past anti-development crew, the Raleigh City Council has been petty, short-sighted, and dysfunctional. The four NIMBYs seeking re-election—David Cox, Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder, and Russ Stephenson—need to go. (Dickie Thompson isn’t running again.)

We endorsed them all in 2017—some because they had awful opponents, others because they had decent records or we figured they were worth a shot. But they immediately usurped Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s committee-assignment prerogative and named themselves to the Growth and Natural Resources Committee. From that perch, they dictated restrictive policies on everything from accessory dwelling units to short-term rentals, while the council wrung its hands over seemingly simple things like scooters and mobile retail. Relationships frayed, and the council became a viper pit of division and distrust. 

No matter the outcome of this year’s election, Raleigh will probably be OK. But if Raleigh wants to be great, it needs better leadership than this. 

Mayor: Mary-Ann Baldwin

Confidence Level: Coin Flip

Other Candidates: Zainab Baloch, Charles Francis, George Knott, Caroline Sullivan, Justin Sutton

We decided to endorse Baldwin over Sullivan, but only at the last minute, and after a lot of deliberation. More on that in a minute. 

First, a quick word about the others. 

Knott wants to raise an alarm about a “culture of corporate welfare” luring companies downtown and displacing existing residents. Sutton, a thirty-one-year-old state procurement attorney, has a platform rooted in effective management, quality city services, and business development, but he opposes an affordable housing bond and is too focused on protecting neighborhoods. Still, we like him, and we’d like him to run again—just not for mayor on the first try. 

Had Baloch, a twenty-eight-year-old who ran for an at-large council seat in 2017, sought that position again, we’d have supported her. She’s strong on density and police oversight. We love her call for zero carbon emissions by 2030 and establishing a Faith ID program. But—brass tacks here—Baloch hasn’t raised enough money or shown that she can marshal the movement she needs to compete. That’s unfortunate, but it’s reality. 

Then there’s Francis, who ran against McFarlane last time. Francis deserves credit for helping force the city into a difficult conversation about the people left behind in the city’s prosperity. But he’s also allied with the NIMBY incumbents, which is a red flag. More important, he can be difficult to pin down on critical issues and sometimes seems to want to be all things to all people. He’s a powerful speaker, compelling on the stump and in person. He could be a good mayor, maybe a great one. But even after two campaigns, there are too many unknowns for us to sign off.      

For us, the choice boils down to Sullivan, a former Wake County commissioner endorsed by McFarlane, and Baldwin, a former city council member popular among the downtown set. Both are tough, savvy, principled women who know the ins and outs of local government. Both favor smarter, denser development, though Baldwin is more adamant about adding missing-middle housing and stopping neighborhood conservation overlay districts. And both want to see the city council behave like adults. 

The biggest difference between Baldwin and Sullivan is style: As a commissioner, Sullivan worked behind the scenes, building consensus on small things when faced with gridlock. Baldwin is pugnacious, never one to back down from a fight. She’s less interested in compromising with the NIMBYs than defeating them. 

Who will be more effective? That depends on what the next city council looks like. 

If one NIMBY incumbent loses, and Baldwin or Sullivan commands a 5–3 majority, we’d prefer a mayor who comes out swinging to one who’s accommodating. That’s Baldwin. If there’s a stalemate, however—if the four NIMBYs win—there’s a better argument for Sullivan. 

But to date, the NIMBYs have shown little interest in compromise, and we suspect they’ll try to wear down anyone who isn’t on their side. Some fights should be taken head-on.  

At-Large: Nicole Stewart (inc.), Jonathan Melton 

Confidence Level: High

Other Candidates: James Bledsoe, Portia Rochelle, Carlie Allison Spencer, Russ Stephenson (inc.) 

Stewart has sometimes found herself the lone voice of dissent, supporting electric scooters and opposing neighborhood overlay districts.

The council’s youngest member, she understands that the city is growing, and that we need to plan for it to happen equitably. With any luck, Stewart will have a better council to work with the next two years—and with a lot of luck, that council will include Melton. 

A lawyer and community organizer, Melton isn’t inherently skeptical of change, multifamily housing, or short-term rentals and ADUs. He’d also add an overdue LGBTQ voice to the council.

This means that, after seven terms, Stephenson needs to go. While he distances himself from the NIMBYs, his mantra that finding a fifth vote is what matters most has led to regressive policies over the past two years and consolidated power in the hands of people who wielded it poorly. He can’t have it both ways. 

District A: Patrick Buffkin

Confidence Level: Meh

Other Candidates: Joshua Bradley, Sam Hershey

On paper, Buffkin—endorsed by McFarlane, former mayor Charles Meeker, and outgoing council member Dickie Thompson, whom Buffkin thought ineffectual—is probably best suited to our endorsement, though we’re not particularly excited about it. Buffkin is plugged into issues important to this North Raleigh district and has a background in local Democratic politics. He’s likely to vote thoughtfully on key growth issues, too. 

But—and this gives us pause—he also gave a quick, dismissive no to our question about whether he supports a police oversight board. 

Hershey would probably be OK, too. He paints himself as an independent unattached to any council faction, and he has smart takes on the affordable housing bond and police oversight. The most interesting choice—we were tempted—is Bradley, who chairs the Piedmont chapter of the Socialist Party USA. He wants the city to look beyond the “constraints imposed by capitalist development,” which, if nothing else, would present the council with unconventional thinking and liven up otherwise dull meetings.

For now, we’ll side with Buffkin and hope our reservations are misplaced. 

District B: Brian Fitzsimmons

Confidence Level: Very High

Other Candidates: David Cox (inc.)

Cox embodies everything we think is wrong with Raleigh politics. He is a reactionary NIMBY through and through. He wants to protect single-family neighborhoods but offers little more than superficial solutions to the affordable housing crisis. He bullies the city’s staff and ignores the city’s code of conduct. He makes knee-jerk decisions, like the time he tried to move funding from one park project to another without consulting constituents, then had to reverse course. He tries to micromanage city projects in ways that bring government to a standstill. And when he faces the slightest bit of criticism, Cox and his allies petulantly lash out. 

Fortunately, District B has an excellent alternative in Fitzsimmons, who envisions Raleigh as a progressive, innovative city, with ambitions like becoming carbon neutral by 2050 alongside district-centric goals such as adding mixed-use, transit-friendly development along Capital Boulevard. Fitzsimmons, a former chairman of the county Democratic Party, also brings a nuanced approach to contentious issues like the RDU Airport Authority quarry lease and short-term rentals. 

And did we mention he’s not David Cox?

District C: Corey Branch (inc.)

Confidence Level: Medium

Other Candidates: Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi, Wanda Hunter, Ricky Scott

Branch isn’t the council’s most outspoken member—and we hear murmurs that he’s not as attuned to his East Raleigh district as he should be—but he stepped up as mayor pro tem when McFarlane was on medical leave, keeping the NIMBYs in line and maintaining decorum. We also generally share his views on modifying the NCOD process, allowing multifamily housing in residential areas, and loosening restrictions on ADUs and short-term rentals. We’d like to see him be a stronger presence of the council—and a stronger advocate for District C—but we’ll give him another term to do it. 

District D: Saige Martin

Confidence Level: High

Other Candidates: Brittany Bryan, Kay Crowder (inc.), April Parker 

A Crowder has represented District D since 2003—Thomas for most of that period, Kay since he died in 2014. It’s time for a new voice. Crowder has reflexively resisted development even when it made no sense to do so. She shot down a mobile retail ordinance because she thought no one cared about it—delaying it for a year—but rashly awarded a faith-based health clinic $30,000 in city funds, only to discover it had ties to anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ groups. (The grant was rescinded.)

Martin, twenty-eight, is the fresh energy the council needs. He’s championing a progressive platform centered on housing affordability—he says he grew up homeless—creating incentives for green infrastructure, and making the council more responsive. Like Melton, he would also provide Raleigh’s LGBTQ community with a seat on the dais. 

District E: David Knight 

Confidence Level: Make. This. Happen. 

Other Candidates: Stef Mendell (inc.)

Two years ago, Mendell upset incumbent Bonner Gaylord by just 536 votes. It’s possible that our endorsement put her over the edge. Consider this our mea culpa. 

Mendell is perhaps the most myopic politician we’ve ever seen, someone who focuses on the needs of the outspoken few at the expense of the big picture. 

She pushed the council to abruptly cancel a sidewalk project along Oxford Road because a handful of residents complained. She fought a rooftop bar atop Scott Crawford’s French bistro Jolie even though it’s not in her district because it’s near a condo she owns, and she worried her tenant wouldn’t like the noise. (The sidewalk, while delayed for months, eventually got back on track. Jolie opened earlier this month, but the rooftop can’t have amplified music and Crawford had to build a fence to shield the neighbors from noise.) 

And like Cox, she has extraordinarily thin skin, which sometimes veers into the conspiratorial, like when she suggested that the INDY had a nefarious conflict of interest because our company’s owner has a nephew whose business partner’s wife is Nicole Stewart, which means … we’ll let you know when we figure it out. 

Knight, on the other hand, has a long track record working inside government, tackling complicated environmental policy issues. He has a thoughtful vision for downtown as a dense, walkable, less car-reliant city, and wants to expand housing choices, curtail the use of NCODs, loosen regulations on ADUs and short-term rentals, combat climate change by decreasing the city’s carbon footprint, and install a real police oversight board with teeth. Knight is far and away the better choice. 

Respond to our endorsements at backtalk@indyweek.com.

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17 replies on “Endorsements 2019: Down With the Raleigh NIMBYs”

  1. I see the Indy crowd is true to form on this one. In the end it’s more about a bunch of outsiders with no vested interest in an issue trying to tell current neighborhood residents what is in their best interest. With so much Hubris. Could it be that maybe, just maybe the property owners and folks living in a neighborhood might know what is best for it? But that has never stopped a “progressive” from trying to appropriate that which belongs to somebody else for their own out of jealousy. Next they will be advocating eminent domain to build 20 story communal housing. becasue by god it is their right to tell you, mister successful middle class person, that instead of a singe family home in town you should have to live in a luxury 8 story condo building! Lenin would be proud comrade!

  2. You don’t even bother to research the people you support. What kind of journalism are you about? You used to be reliable!

  3. The current crop of “neighborhood advocate” councilors holds supposed “quality of life” and petty “neighborhood character” issues due to very modest shifts in the status quo like sidewalk construction, bike lanes, ADUs, or (the horrors) DUPLEXES as the paramount concern of council, and will spend endless hours nitpicking building massing, fenestration, articulation, etc just to leave their stamp on a development project.

    But Raleigh is a city, not just a collection of neighborhoods, and as a city, region, and society, we face problems infinitely larger than this. These issues include: climate change, housing affordability, racial and economic equity and safety of cyclists and pedestrians.

    These endorsements acknowledge that truth. Thank you, Indy, for getting it right.

  4. I know a lot of people are down on Stef and I share some of the concerns about her thin skin. She’s far from perfect. However there are a few reasons why she still gets my vote over Knight.

    First, I have never seen a more responsive local politician. She is quick and reliable to respond to constituent contacts and gets concerns people bring to her handled.

    But most importantly, she knows what she is doing. I attended a forum with candidates for all seats, where she was the only person at the table to: 1. Understand that mental health is a large part of the homeless equation 2. Acknowledge that the state legislature ties Raleigh’s hands on tree protection 3. Understand that the city can’t do everything and has to prioritize. For example at that forum David Knight said “I don’t think any sidewalk request should be turned down” which like most of his answers is a happy-talk remark that shows no knowledge of how government and its funding actually works. One of the issues that David Knight supporters have been hitting Stef on is her support for trying to stop the RDU quarry, but then in an N&O questionnaire Knight agreed with Stef that the city should file a lawsuit to try to stop it! This is trying to have it both ways. Also in he N&O questionnaire Knight supported using taxpayer money for a boondoggle soccer complex in SE Raleigh. (see N&O questionnaire here: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/election/article235139852.html)

    Because of some of Stef’s thin-skinned behavior in council I was leaning toward Knight until that forum, but I came away realizing that despite her rough edges Mendell actually understands governing and how it works, and Knight understands how to give glib crowd-pleasing answers.

    It’s also a little embarrassing to see how quickly and enthusiastically progressives will choose the glib man over the competent woman.

  5. If the Indy’s city council endorsements win the election then the greedy developers have triumphed again. Take a good look at who is funding their campaigns. And the Indy’s assessment and interpretation of what has been happening on city council these past two years is unfair to the incumbents as well as inaccurate. McFarlane was upset that Bonner (employee of big developer John Kane) was defeated by Mendell who was elected because the District E constituents were fed up with being ignored and blown off by Bonner. In comparison, she is very responsive to her constituents and is working hard to meet the needs of very diverse neighborhoods while addressing the needs for density. Stewart is a prodigy of McFarlane and sticks close to her. She says that she is an environmentalist yet did not vote against the RDU quarry. She says that she is advocating for affordable housing but did not vote for an affordable housing bond. Go figure. Raleigh’s growth issues and solutions to these issues are not black and white and no size fits all. Nimbys and Yimbys are self-focused groups who don’t get or care about the large picture. Describing the incumbents as one or the other is just plain inaccurate. With the hard work of Cox, Stephenson, Crowder and Mendell, progress is being made within the restraints of the regulations or lack of to address the very difficult issues facing Raleigh. So let’s just throw out those who have made progress to preserve and protect what we have while promoting responsible managed growth. Let’s just widen the door for the developers to mow down, tear down, build expensive housing, promote gentrification, ignore the lack of appropriate infrastructure and the problems all of this creates on the environment. So let’s just vote in those who say one thing but are tied to the pressures of the development community. Unless the voters choose to look beneath the surface at the whole picture without being swayed by the Indy’s irresponsible presentation and endorsements of the candidates.

  6. Glad the Indy is on the right track. I think many of the council members are far too responsive to an (incredibly) vocal and over-involved few, and don’t take the time or spend the energy to study issues or actually talk to a diverse cross-section of the public before making decisions of consequence, large and small. The ADU restrictions, short term rental restrictions, e-scooter regs, etc are just a few examples of times when the concerns of the very few outweighed the desires of the many as far as the council was concerned. Several current incumbents have even had to walk back decisions after (predictable) backlashes because they are in such bubbles, particularly in the suburban districts. The other commenter said it best – Raleigh is a city and should not constantly be bowing to the tyranny of suburbanites with too much time on their hands.

  7. Wake Stone executives have made large contributions to both Fitzsimmons and Melton to buy their votes on the Quarry. I was excited when Fitzsimmons chose to run initially, but caving to a business interest who supports him financially is deeply disturbing. The quarry issue isn’t about NIMBY – it’s not in the backyard of the most-used NC State Park. The environmental impact projections are dire. Letting the airport authority ignore the terms of the leased land and have their quarry (which won’t even raise much of the money they need) is not a “nuanced” approach. By contrast, Mendel and Stephenson were both present and spoke at the recent rally and support efforts to work against the quarry.

  8. I find your down with the nimbys endorsements troubling, especially when Yimby Raleigh is the creation of Brent Woodcox Special Counsel at North Carolina General Assembly
    Communications Director/Assistant Legal Counsel North Carolina Republican Party
    Jun 2007 – Jun 2009
    he has started two campaigns at the local level
    Share Raleigh and YIMBY Raleigh
    There are times when it is good to say yes, but there are also times when no is the correct answer. There is never a good time to get the wool pulled over your eyes, so now you have picked a side and are no longer independent. Step back, take a good look at the big picture, vote for the team you think is best for Raleigh, because everything is interconnected and it does matter.

  9. Raleigh and Durham (maybe others) will be building a lot of big buildings in the upcoming decades. How big and where are critical questions Raleigh’s council (probably the others, too, but I don’t know enough about them) will have to address, either deliberately or by trail and error. Whatever is built, much of the new buildings will be quarry output.

    With so much building, there will probably need to be new quarries, so the question is where. There are already 3 on the periphery of Umstead, so that is obviously an area that has successful quarries. Where else? I don’t know. Council needs to find out what the options are. Obviously, at least one existing operator thinks RDU is a good spot.

    The focus has been on things like biking and hiking in the area RDU has leased. But that’s half the story. Every truck load uses fuel and pollutes the air. Every extra mile the truck has to haul its load produces more pollution and costs more. The cost of the pollution is obvious; does moving the quarry have an offsetting environmental benefit? How much does it drive up the cost of the building? It might not be much, but some. Suppose the truck with more costs is delivering to an affordable housing project – will it be less affordable? Do any of the people taking positions on the quarry know these costs?

    The world is filled with unintended consequences. I don’t have the answers, but I know that where the next quarry goes isn’t just about hikers and bikers. I want a Council that decides the height and locations of future development (lower heights = more locations), as well as the location of the next quarry based on a serious evaluation of long-term realities, not based on who makes the loudest noise about protecting a narrow interest.

  10. You’re dead on with Corey Branch. I was saying that during his last election and haven’t seen much change since. The website points to 30k foot ideas by using icons, the District C meeting he boasts was actually built by citizens of a private facebook group dedicated to our district and shocked many with his soccer stadium support. There again, a check from Kane for $2500 might help make that decision a little easier. He can have it both ways with affordable housing and taking checks from Kane fro supporting a plan that will push more folks out.

    Overall, he’s spent more time this term touting mayor pro term than representing his constituents. Had my vote, but now it’s gone.

  11. The Indy is full of political bs now days. Raleigh maybe not be hip enough for you, but it’s a nice place to call home. If you’re looking for easy answers to difficulty questions for our City, Indy’s got your candidates. In case anyone forgot, Raleigh isn’t just downtown and what works there is not a model for where most of its citizens live. Russ Stephenson knows this. David Cox knows this. Stef Mendell knows this. And Kay Crowder knows this. Why doesn’t the Indy?

  12. According to Nicole Stewart’s website her issues of concern are the environment, Transportation and affordable housing. Risky talk on very safe non performance issues. Yikes, Three vague issues that will/can never be fully resolved. This puts absolutely 0 responsibility on her for the last 4 years of failure and all her future failures. Folks you’ve just been “politic’d.
    How about tackling Raleighs ridiculous debt or reckless growth effecting quality of life. Or better yet. past council ethics violations. where the citizens were done wrong? Nope. Another spineless mouthpiece politician with hopes of being mayor keeping it safe. We get boring old vague “transportation”,”housing” and “environment” where are the quality civic minded candidates?

  13. Out with the NIMBYs? Indy, I’m not sure I understand your platform anymore. I question many of your endorsements.

    I admire the responsiveness that Cox, Crowder, Mendell and Stephenson showed with the RDU quarry. Though the entire council has said (finally) that they are against the quarry, these four from council and Sam Hershey (running for District A) were the only ones who showed up and spoke out. I sent an email query to Nicole Stewart in July to better understand her positioning since she ran on environmentalism, but I never got a response from her. In addition, speaking from first hand correspondence with many that the Indy paints as “NIMBYs”, they are all responsive. Mendell, especially, should be praised at how she responds to her constituents-even those who disagree with her. She no longer represents me as my council person, but she is still willing to listen to any concerned citizen. Now I currently live in District D. I have seen Crowder in action-she’s been to the West CACs, remembers people and cares. I also heard her speak first hand about the issue with the funding to a faith-based health clinic. You, Indy, did not report the full story at all-your quote was as if Crowder’s decision was intentional. She came to the West CAC in May or June of this year and shared what happened, in addition to taking questions from the public. I highly respect her for that and had a meaningful conversation with her after that meeting – it was evident when she made the original decision to fund this group that she was thinking about overall health provisions where the uninsured usually can’t get coverage.

    Saige Martin seems like a great candidate for District D, but I haven’t seen him at the West CACs or in the community. I’m sure in time, I will. However, I’m sticking with supporting the people who deliver on what they say, I’ve seen in action, and have made a stand for the environment.

    NIMBYs, you have my support.

  14. From one well-read neighbor…

    I’m what they call a NIMBY. It used to be that NIMBY referred to those who didn’t want things like low-income housing that lowered property values in their neighborhood. Now apparently it means anything that stops the monetization of property. I’ve been told off by the YIMBYs about the necessity of moving out the low–income people so that “mixed use” (mostly luxury one-bedroom apartment buildings) can replace modest homes. I know that’s an effective use of language for developers, but I think it’s rather misleading as it avoids any sense of the different visions of what a city can be and the problems each vision will have to deal with. It just surprised me that the Indy would come down so strong on the side of “make money in real estate”.

    Part of the problem that people frequently forget is that more density in cities like NYC or Seattle has not translated into more people housed. The increased volume of housing has resulted in increased non-residential use, as pied-a-terre for the wealthy and short-term rentals. There are a number of issues like that with facts from the development of other cities which deserve a whole lot more attention than just “one side gets higher return on investment with regulation reduction, the other side gets higher return on investment with increased regulation.” But the Indy should leave out the old “Sleepy Town” sneering presentation.

  15. I have found the INDY and N&O endorsements for the 2019 Raleigh City Council disappointing. Compared to previous years, it seems like the level of investigative reporting has diminished. I assume this is attributable to the financial stress being experienced by many print media companies. If specific candidates are labeled as NIMBYs, does that mean the INDY is a YIMBY publication? The INDY and N&O are important news sources for the community. It’s important that you do a better job providing your readers with the information they need to make informed decisions.

  16. So, Indy wants to mock a council member for questioning the publication’s objectivity. You write, “…conflict of interest because our company’s owner has a nephew whose business partner’s wife is Nicole Stewart…” Hellooooo? The company’s owner is Richard Meeker. Brother of former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker, current mayor McFarlane’s political mentor and longtime ally. As is apparent to anyone who follows Raleigh politics, the mayor declared war on council members Mendell and Cox long ago. Her husband verbally berated and physically berated council member Kay Crowder, which led to McFarlane’s decision not to run for re-election. That incident isn’t something you would know by reading Indy, of course. Given the strong Meeker-McFarlane relationship, it isn’t inconsequential to the question of Indy’s objectivity. You cannot just sweep the Meeker connection under the rug, although that’s what you’ve done here.

    Taking credit for endorsing Mendell in Cox in 2017 is empty. Mendell ran against a poster child for overdevelopment and an incumbent who was infamously dismissive of constituents. McFarlane likely supported Bonner, but she had no specific reason to be against Mendell at the time. Maybe the disdain originated from Mendell’s audacity to defeat Bonner. And Cox ran against a (gasp) Republican who everyone knew was past his prime and was likewise well-known for ignoring constituents during his own years in office.

    Unrelated to Indy’s vitriol and the Meeker-McFarlane angle that feeds said vitriol, isn’t it interesting to consider that in district B, the mayor (through a political consultant) sought to recruit at least 3 candidates, all women, to run against David Cox? Mr. Fitzsimmons was at best fourth choice and likely even lower on the list.

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