We’ll get the easy one out of the way: longtime council member Russ Stephenson, an architect and urban planner, has more than earned reelection. He is smart, engaged, and progressive, and has long been a champion of equity.

Now the hard part. With incumbent Mary-Ann Baldwin bowing out, six newcomers join Stephenson in seeking two at-large seats. (The top two vote-getters win.) Of them, three deserve consideration: Stacy Miller, Zainab Baloch, and Nicole Stewart.

Miller, an attorney who had a brief appointed stint on the council in 1997, has raised gobs of money, even holding a fundraiser on the elite sands of Figure Eight Island. “Every time I turn my head,” he says, “Raleigh’s on somebody’s top-ten list, but everybody’s not on that top-ten list. We can do much better.”

Baloch, meanwhile, is a twenty-six-year-old Muslim of Pakistani descent working on her master’s studies in public administration at UNC-Chapel Hill. Baloch offers more than just much-needed diversity: she’s an advocate for mental health care who speaks forcefully about addressing the city’s affordable housing crisis.

We see a bright future for Baloch, but we’re siding with Stewart, the thirty-five-year-old development director at the N.C. Conservation Network. Clearly passionate and knowledgeable, Stewart would be a valuable voice for the environment and smart growth. She’s won the backing of Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes and former mayor Charles Meeker (note: he’s the father of one of Stewart’s husband’s business partners), who said Stewart would “bring the next generation of progressive leadership and vision” to the council. We agree.