Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin wanted 2020 to be Raleigh’s moonshot.
Instead, the arrival of a global pandemic, coupled with economic and social unrest, squashed those ambitions. But despite unprecedented challenges—and unlike the former “Council of No”—the new, development-friendly Raleigh City Council managed to make good on promises to boost alternative housing types in the city, legalize short-term rentals, and pass a litany of other common-sense reforms to streamline city processes.
But early on, Baldwin revealed an authoritarian streak that undercut her visage as a great reformer. She wielded the bully pulpit, well, like a bully. She greenlit the backhanded dismantling of the city’s longstanding Citizen Advisory Councils, with disgraced former council member Saige Martin whipping votes behind the scenes. And questions about potential conflicts of interest arose after Baldwin took a job at big-time development firm Barnhill Contracting Company. But issues with Baldwin’s leadership came fully into the frame during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests this summer.
Cops in riot gear unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, prompting a riot and damaging dozens of businesses downtown. Instead of reining in law enforcement, Baldwin issued draconian curfews, empowering cops to arrest anyone that disobeyed the order. At the same time, the City might as well have rolled out the red carpet for gun-toting, far-right Boogaloo demonstrators and anti-masker, conspiracy-fueled ReOpenNC protesters, who gathered freely in the streets.
It left more than a bad taste.
Rebuilding public trust will be Baldwin’s biggest challenge if she hopes to secure another term.
And yet, the Raleigh City Council accomplished more in one year than their NIMBY predecessors mustered in four years. They came in with sweeping ambition and a detailed checklist of campaign promises inspired by a vision of Raleigh’s future as an urban, walkable, and equitable metropolis. Here’s how we think they stacked up this year on the issues.
ADUs By Right / Short-Term Rentals / Cottage Courts
They said that they would do it, and they did. You can now build accessory dwelling units (or ADUs) by right, and Airbnb is no longer essentially illegal in the city.
Citizen Advisory Councils probably needed to die, but the surprise vote left many blindsided by the lack of community input in the decision. And a year later, it’s still unclear what will replace them.
Black Lives Matter Protests Response
Do better, Baldwin.
Affordable Housing Bond
A tax increase is a hard ask during a pandemic. But affordable housing is the city’s top priority, and the council was able to get the bond passed handily despite a campaign of detractors—including former council members—arguing it was a handout to developers. We hope that’s not the case—and that quality mixed-income developments along transit corridors will help bridge the city’s housing equity gap.
This one isn’t their fault. We’ll count it as a withdrawal. The council had to prioritize other expenditures, and unfortunately, funds for Dix Park didn’t make the cut. Maybe next year.
Renters—and not just property owners—are now notified about key projects in their neighborhoods. Maybe next we can actually pass policies that protect and advocate for them.
Create a Police Advisory Board
Unlike their predecessors, this council did manage to create a police advisory board. It doesn’t really do much, and they couldn’t get anyone to join at first, but they did create it. Granted, their hands are tied by the state legislature in terms of the board’s powers. We hope the council keeps pushing the General Assembly to expand the board’s oversight ability so it can actually hold police accountable. Until then, it’s basically a paper tiger.
The council’s first term leaves much room for improvement, especially in fostering transparency in government and enacting real, meaningful police reform. Still, they achieved many goals that will make it easier to build alternative housing in the city, despite the hindrance of a global pandemic and social upheaval.
But unless they start working to mend some of Raleigh’s deeper wounds from this year, it’s unclear if they can rebuild the public trust needed to secure a second term.
Follow Interim Editor-in-Chief Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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