The wave was coming, but even Mary-Ann Baldwin didn’t see how strong it was. 

She thought—or at least hoped—that she’d edge out former Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan and survive the first round of voting in October. After all, she’d won the endorsements of both the INDY and The News & Observer, which she’d never expected. The question was by how much she’d trail attorney Charles Francis, who’d run for mayor in 2017 and lost to Nancy McFarlane. If the margin was a few points, she could probably catch up. If he was close to 50 percent, it might not be worth a runoff. 

But the ground had shifted in Raleigh. 

As the returns came in, it became apparent that voters had turned on the anti-development city council they’d elected two years earlier. They were done with the infighting and toxicity, done with endless arguments about picayune details. They wanted Raleigh to build its future, not fight the battles of its past. 

Stef Mendell got wiped out in District E. Kay Crowder was behind in District D. Russ Stephenson was losing his at-large race. David Cox was neck-and-neck in District B (he would ultimately prevail).

And Mary-Ann Baldwin, the outspoken former city council member, wasn’t clinging to second. She was out front, 38–31. 

Unlike two years ago, Francis didn’t bother calling for a runoff. He could see the writing on the wall: The Notorious MAB was not only ahead, but she was also likely to take the lion’s share of Sullivan’s 21 percent. It was over. 

Baldwin had stayed on the sidelines since leaving the council in 2017, scolding her colleagues on her way out for keeping a plan to legalize accessory-dwelling units in a committee. (It would linger there another year.) In her absence, the council’s new majority focused on protecting neighborhoods. It saw growth as a threat and fought bitterly over rezoning cases and newfangled things like electric scooters and short-term rentals. 

Baldwin watched, chiming in with her dissent on Twitter. It didn’t go unnoticed. 

In June 2018, the council’s majority abruptly removed Baldwin from the GoTriangle Board of Trustees. No one talked to her about it first.

One morning nine months later, Baldwin—prone to insomnia, though she slept well that night—awoke to her phone buzzing with news: McFarlane had just announced that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term. Baldwin doesn’t remember the first person to call her, but they all had the same question: Was she running?  

Baldwin was instinctively drawn to the race, but until the last second, she had her doubts. She was set to announce her candidacy on Wednesday, March 27. She recorded an interview with the INDY the previous Friday making her announcement, but only with the caveat that she might change her mind over the weekend, maybe even on Monday. She didn’t. 

McFarlane endorsed Sullivan, whom she’d recruited. Sullivan, who had little name recognition but access to a lot of money, pledged to build consensus between the anti- and pro-growth camps. Baldwin, pugnacious and unapologetic in her vision of Raleigh as a big city rather than a small town, was ready to bulldoze the NIMBYs, who, in turn, cast their lots with Francis. 

Then there were the council races, which took on similar contours, with aggressive, often millennial pro-development candidates putting the anti-development incumbents on their heels. 

Their views tended to align with Baldwin’s. They wanted Raleigh to become a dense, walkable city—a place to live, work, and play, with a downtown that could accommodate all three—and promised to go big on affordable housing to protect vulnerable residents amid unavoidable growth. 

The incumbents, on the other hand, tried to make the airport authority’s decision to lease property to a quarry company the election’s central issue. That didn’t work. 

On December 2, Baldwin became the third woman to hold the title of Raleigh mayor. And she took office with almost exactly the council she wanted: young, likeminded, energetic, ready to get stuff done. 

Its first meeting was a blaze of activity, a rush to correct what it saw as its predecessor’s missteps on ADUs and short-term rentals, among other issues. 

But Baldwin knows that’s the low-hanging fruit. On the more difficult stuff, the onus is on her to deliver. 

“We are willing now to move forward on some big ideas,” Baldwin says. “We need to lead on big issues like housing affordability, and I’m hoping that our residents are with us and that they support us to do these big things.”

What that will mean is an ambitious housing bond on the 2020 ballot, perhaps something akin to what Durham passed last month. Of course, the devil’s in the details, and the fine print has yet to be determined. More recent discussions have included the feasibility of universal free bus service, which Kansas City recently passed. 

Baldwin’s colleagues are champing at the bit. Her biggest challenge, she says, might just be “reining them in.”

“They are going to want to do everything all at once, and we can’t do everything all at once,” she says. “It has got to be at the right pace.”

Contact Raleigh staff writer Leigh Tauss at

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4 replies on “19 People of 2019: Mary-Ann Baldwin”

  1. I see you are reporting to fit your false narrative, even reinventing history with your claim that MAB was surprised to get your endorsement, though you let slip she secretly interviewed with you prior to announcing her decision to run for mayor. I expect nothing but trashy, biased reporting from your Raleigh cub reporter.

  2. Are the more than 5,000 homeless children in wake county also boomers then? We got room for condos and developers, Indy week bashes trump for putting kids in cages, but thinks people who think we need homes for everyone and not just the few are somehow all boomers. Whose side is this publication on?

  3. Should be ALL of the “Indy” approved councilors sitting there and doing nothing.

  4. So, gavel slammer Mayor Baldwin is on your “People of 2019” list…. Let’s do some math.
    69% of the people who voted for Raleigh Mayor voted AGAINST her! She has NO mandate. Her arbitrary rule that you can’t say the chief of police’s name is shocking and shouldn’t go unchallenged. Why are none of the “Indy” approved councilors sitting there and doing nothing?

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