Wake County Candidate Questionnaires

Nancy McFarlane
Robert WeltzinAt Large:
Mary-Ann Baldwin
Russ Stephenson
Craig Ralph
Matt TomasuloDistrict A:
JB Buxton
Richard “Dickie” Thompson
Eddie WoodhouseDistrict B:
John Odom
David CoxDistrict C:
Eugene Weeks
Corey Branch District D:
Kay Crowder
Ashton Mae SmithDistrict E:
Bonner Gaylord
Edie Jeffreys
DeAntony Collins


In a word, that’s what Raleigh’s Oct. 6 election is about: how much to grow, where to grow, how to create infrastructure that keeps up with growth, how to ensure that the prosperity accompanying growth is distributed equitably.

Within that one issue, growth, are myriad related issues: affordable housing, gentrification, density, historic preservation, public transportation, poverty, downtown development. This year’s hottest political fights have centered on a hated rezoning process and new rules to rein in downtown rowdiness.

In Durham, you see a similar story: affordable housing, gentrification, economic inequality, concerns about the boring, fancy-hotel direction downtown seems to be taking. There’s also anxiety about gun crime and the contentious relationship between the police and communities of color, which probably contributed to Chief Jose Lopez’s ouster.

(Programming note: We’ll endorse in Orange County races Oct. 21.)

The challenges are certainly real. Still, we believe that both cities are generally moving in the right direction. Raleigh’s and Durham’s downtowns are thriving, and with them our culinary and cultural scenes. The Triangle’s unemployment rate is well below the state average. We top all manner of quality-of-life rankings and best this-or-that lists.

The question for this election is how to keep that momentum goinghow to build on our positives and address our negatives.

Both Raleigh and Durham are fortunate to have a number of smart, engaged, progressive candidates for office. Some races proved difficult to decide; we’re not supporting a few candidates we like very much. But in the end, we believe the individuals we’ve endorsed best align with the INDY‘s mission of making the Triangle a more just, livable and interesting place.

Endorsements, of course, are by their nature subjective. This is not: In October 2013, turnout in Wake County municipal elections was an abysmal 15 percent; in Durham city elections, 10.5 percent. That’s not good enough. This is your home, and your home is at a crossroads. We can’t afford for you to sit this one out.

Vote for our people, vote for someone else, write in Scrooge McDuck or Homer Simpson or Donald Trump or some other cartoon character. Doesn’t matter. Just vote.


This one’s a no-brainer: We endorse Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

While not as visionary as her predecessor, Charles Meeker, McFarlane exudes competence. The two-term incumbent has guided the city through a personnel overhaul with the hiring of a new city manager, maintained the city’s AAA bond rating, established the Small Business Office and provided the lowest-cost municipal services in the Triangle. On just about every list imaginable, Raleigh ranks among the best places to live, work, start a business and raise a family. At minimum, McFarlane hasn’t crashed the car since taking the wheel.

The mayor also has at least one major accomplishment to her name: McFarlane was instrumental in the $52 million purchase of the 307-acre Dorothea Dix property, overcoming late-game Republican meddling on Jones Street. And she’ll be a reliable advocate for the badly needed Wake County transit referendum slated to go before voters next fall.

But we aren’t content to see McFarlane rest on her laurels. In this termthought to be her last, though that could changewe want the mayor to stop tip-toeing around Council in fear of disrupting the delicate working majority that usually sides with her. We want the normally conflict-adverse McFarlane to assert herself more forcefully. In short, we want to see leadership.

McFarlane’s challenger, Bob Weltzinor Dr. Bob, as he calls himselfis a chiropractor and military veteran who has lived in Raleigh for five years and run for mayor twice, both times with the backing of the Wake County Republican Party. He believes the City Council is “extremely out of touch with both the citizens and the businesses that make Raleigh vibrant,” and is championing the cause of downtown bars chafing at new sidewalk restrictions that McFarlane has supported. On this issue, we side more with the bars, but one issue does not an election make.


At-large (two seats)

This race is more difficult.

Raleigh has two at-large Council seats, elected citywide. This year, four people are running, and three of them warrant serious consideration. Ultimately, however, the INDY endorses newcomer Matt Tomasulo and incumbent Russ Stephenson.

We’ll begin with Tomasulo, whom we can’t support enthusiastically enough. He’s sharp, enthusiastic, teeming with fresh ideas, versed in the kind of smart-growth planning the city desperately needs and, at 33 years old, a voice for the rising generation that will define Raleigh for decades to come.

Tomasulo’s work in city planning and urban designincluding the internationally recognized Walk [Your City] partnership he started in Raleighis the very definition of visionary. He wants city government to use 21st-century technology to better interact with residents. He arguescorrectly in our viewthat the city needs a much stronger focus on pedestrian- and bike-friendliness, including a bike-share program. He supports downtown nightlife while saying the right things about smarter growth, creating more public parks and prioritizing “close-knit, walkable neighborhoods.”

This city needs Matt Tomasulo, who has both the right vision and the ability to sell that vision to the rest of Council.

That left us with a dilemma: Stephenson or Mary-Ann Baldwin, both of whom we like, albeit in different ways.

Stephenson has been on Council for 10 years and chairs its Comprehensive Plan Committee. He has been a reliable advocate for high-quality development, sustainable growth and affordable housing, which has often made him unpopular with real estate interests. Probably the closest thing to an expert on the Unified Development Ordinance that Council currently has, Stephenson has made engaging with citizens a real priority, and he has concrete suggestions on how to refine the UDO, including improving the transitions between infill development and established neighborhoods.

Stephenson, while not always the best spokesman for his cause, has also been Council’s foremost advocate for linking new development to community benefits, especially affordable housing in the urban core. (His idea to allow developers greater density in exchange for affordable housing is probably unworkable, but at least he’s trying.)

Unfortunately, endorsing Stephenson and Tomasulo means not endorsing Baldwin, an eight-year incumbent. Though Baldwin has done good work as chair of the Law and Public Safety Committeeshe secured the Oak City Outreach Center after the controversy around feeding the homeless in Moore Square Park, and she’s been on the right side of the sidewalk-drinking ordinanceher development-at-all-costs stance can be a polarizing force on Council, and her occasionally combative style isn’t always well-suited to municipal governance. We’d like to see her take her talents to the state level, where she’d breathe new life into a moribund Democratic Party. She’d make a hell of a state senator.

That leaves Craig Ralph, a developer who lives near Cameron Village. Like most of the Republicans running this election cycle, Ralph is trying to use the sidewalk-patios issue to propel himself into office. We don’t envision it working.


District A

Earlier this year, Wayne Maiorano shocked local political circles by deciding (at the last minute) to vacate his hard-won seat after just one term, leaving District A open. Three candidates are running, and two of them would be improvements, as Maiorano, a real estate attorney, was much too wedded to developers. We endorse Dickie Thompson.

Thompson is the mayor’s choice, and if she’s going to become the visionary we want her to be in her final two years, she’ll need all the help she can get. Thompson will fill that role: He shares McFarlane’s views on most issues, ranging from the transit plan to the new sidewalk rules. More than that, Thompson has experience and credentials that will benefit Council.

He’s the chair of the RDU Airport Authority Board and is leading the development of the airport’s master plan. He served on the city’s Planning Commission for seven years. In District A, Thompson says he’ll focus on public safety, good jobs, strong economic development, park space and greenways, and good neighborhoods.

The other viable District A candidate is JB Buxton, a public education strategy consultant who has worked in education at the state and national levels. Buxton has a lot of ideas for ways to improve Raleigh as it grows, like focusing height in geographic centers like Brier Creek and downtown, creating more city-county partnerships to bolster public education, delivering more frequent bus service and expanding the jobs pipeline for young people.

Buxton is currently vice chair of the Planning Commission, where his votes have not always been popular; he voted in favor of the controversial Publix rezoning in North Raleigh, for example, not to mention the UDO remapping, which drew out many anxious, angry residents this summer. (Buxton attributes this to poor communication on the city’s part, and he has a point.) Still, he’s a smart, progressive candidate and creative thinker. Were Thompson not in the race, we would absolutely support him over Eddie Woodhouse.

Woodhouse is a Republican who worked with Jesse Helms for years, which alone could be a disqualifier. His main concern is reducing the city’s debt and curtailing city spending generally; he also wants to address crime and gang activity and promote a small-business-friendly atmosphere. His positions on growth and transit are hazy at best. To his credit, Woodhouse worked on the Raleigh-Wake 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness, but his unbending focus on the debt would hinder the city’s ability to achieve its goals.


District B

Six-term incumbent John Odom has played a valuable role as Council’s token Republican, lending a veneer of bipartisanship to budgets crafted by Democrats. But beyond an appetite for any and all development that rivals Baldwin’s, we’re not quite sure what Odom’s bringing to the table these days.

We’d like to see David Cox take a stab at District B.

Cox has never held public office, and he won’t win any congeniality contests. But because he’s spent the last two years fighting rezoning for a strip mall near Falls Lake, he has a unique, on-the-ground understanding of how the UDO will impact Raleigh’s neighborhoods.

Cox says he will “advocate for changing the UDO to implement those policies and actions to protect [Raleigh’s] neighborhoods from excessive commercial [development].” Sure, he’s probably pissed off the city’s Planning Department with his incessant emails demanding an explanation for why the Falls of Neuse rezoning keeps popping up, but there’s something to be said for the idea that city staff holds too much sway, while the voices of citizens are being ignored.

And Cox has interesting ideas for the district, namely revitalizing Capital Boulevard to make it a gathering place similar to North Hills by bettering transit, improving the landscape of the road and redeveloping rundown or abandoned properties. Cox would also like to investigate a sliding property tax schedule to protect seniors and low-to-middle-income families most affected by rising property valuations, and to explore the feasibility of density bonuses and zoning and taxation changes to encourage affordable housing.

Not all of these ideas will work. But the cityand District Bneeds the conversation.


District C

An old-guard Democrat, Eugene Weeks has served on Council since 2010, after being appointed to fill the District C seat left open by current Wake County Commissioner James West. He points to such achievements as securing funding for the New Bern Avenue corridor, advocating for funds from the city’s parks bond to go toward Chavis Park and Community Center, building more bus shelters and luring an Art Pope grocery store to a previously vacant Kroger space.

But there’s a perception that Weeks is inactive on Council and unresponsive to his constituents, content to coast on the status quo and vote with the other Democrats. And there’s the fact that District C, which covers the city’s mostly African-American southeast section, has largely been left behind by the city’s recent prosperity. There’s been little in the way of economic development or neighborhood revitalization, and vacant buildings and boarded-up housing complexes are commonplace.

District C deserves better. The INDY endorses Corey Branch.

Branch, who ran unsuccessfully against Weeks in 2011, has since served as a member of both the Raleigh Transit Authority and the Wake County Transit Advisory Committee, making him something of a transit expertwhich is an expertise District C needs, as many of its residents rely on bus service to get around. Branch has the right ideas for the district, including focusing on economic inclusion without gentrification, engaging with citizens and improving transit. This time around, he’s ready to serve.

Weeks is a formidable candidate and has outraised Branch 3–1. It will be difficult for Branch to win. Even so, with his fresh ideas and eye toward the future, he’s the better candidate.


District D

District D features another close call.

Kay Crowder took over the the seat last September just before the death of her husband, longtime Council member Thomas Crowder, who was highly regarded in the district if not elsewhere in the city. Crowder has, in our estimation, done a good job, even if she hasn’t always done it the way Thomas would have.

Crowder’s priorities for District D include protecting neighborhoods, improving transit and empowering citizens. On the first score, Crowder has proven she’s not afraid to stand up to developers, as we saw in her negotiations with John Kane, whose proposal for a tower in the Warehouse District was vastly improved with retail and street life fronting the upcoming Union Station. Crowder also wants to explore using city-owned property for affordable housing, a worthwhile goal.

Crowder understands the compromises necessary to create a diverse downtown, and she’s willing to make unpopular decisions that she believes are for the greater good.

We don’t always agree with herCrowder is on the wrong side of the downtown nightlife debate and can be almost reflexively anti-densitybut her systematic, level-headed approach has earned her a full term of her own.

Were she not running against Crowder, Ashton Mae Smith, a 28-year-old newcomer with an ambition and enthusiasm for local government that rivals Leslie Knope, might have earned our endorsement. Smith has an impressive résumé. She’s obviously smart and motivated, and says a lot of good things about effectively managing the city’s growth. Her main policy difference with Crowder seems to be over sidewalk patios.

Smith could make a great candidate one day; this race just isn’t hers.


District E

There are few politicians in Raleigh more innately talented than Bonner Gaylord. He’s young (37), whip-smart, charismatic and likeable to the point of occasional obsequiousness. He would very much like to be mayor in 2017.

Gaylord, who manages the John Kane’s North Hills development as his day job, has some solid achievements on his Council resume. He was the driving force behind SeeClickFix. He voted in favor of the bike-share program and has become an outspoken supporter of transit. He’s well-versed on the issues and not afraid to dive into the nitty-gritty, and his commitment to building a just, vibrant community in Raleigh appears genuine.

On the other hand, he has placed himself firmly in the pro-growth camp and done little to allay concerns about his tightness with developers. District E residents have complained that Gaylord passes off their emails to city staff and does not engage with them. If he wants to be mayor someday, he’ll need to improve in those areas.

As the Good Book tells us, to whom much is given, much is required. Gaylord has a ton of political potential. He needs to live up to it.

Challenger Edie Jeffreys, a moderate Republican, is a candidate with merits, and if your No. 1 concern is protecting neighborhoods, consider voting for her. She’s fought against damaging growth in Five Points for 15 years. She advocates tweaking the UDO to add neighborhood protections and, thanks to her work on the Five Points CAC, appreciates the value of citizen engagement. Jeffreys says she understands the difficulty of finding a balance between development pressures and neighborhood needs, but she’s prepared to take on that challenge.

At some point, we’d like to see her try. But Gaylord has earned another term.

Newcomer DeAntony Collins, meanwhile, has a good understanding of the issues Raleigh is facing, but he lacks experience. He should serve on an advisory board or two before making the leap to Council.

Where to Vote Early

Early voting for the Oct. 6 municipal elections runs from Thursday, Sept. 24, to Saturday, Oct. 3. Here is a list of sites by county.


Board of Elections

337 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh

8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Sept. 24–25, 28–30, Oct. 1–2; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 3. No early voting at this location Sept. 26–27.

Herbert C. Young Community Center

101 Wilkinson Ave., Cary

11 a.m.–7 p.m. Sept. 30, Oct. 1–3. No early voting at this location Sept. 24–Sept. 29.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Vote! (OR STFU)”