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
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.
Confidence Level: High
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
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
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
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.
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