To call this Raleigh City Council’s fledgling reign a disaster is almost an understatement.
The backlash over the secret scheme to eliminate Citizen Advisory Councils was swiftly followed by the pandemic axing Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s plan for a historic “moonshot” package of housing and park bonds.
Then the public was bothered by the appearance of impropriety when Baldwin accepted a job with development contractor Barnhill just weeks after the city awarded the company a $6 million paving contract.
More criticism piled on after Raleigh Police and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office deployed teargas at Black Lives Matter protesters, igniting a riot that resulted in widespread property damage downtown. Following weeks brought more documented incidents of police brutality, including the unwarranted arrest of a Black 17-year-old protester, an incident that prompted an internal investigation.
And last month, the council’s youngest and most outspoken member against the police, Saige Martin, resigned after sexual assault and misconduct allegations were brought to light by a lengthy News & Observer exposé.
It’s been one public-relations nightmare after the next, and this council—Baldwin especially—desperately needs to avoid another crisis as they start to navigate the process of replacing Martin. Instead of the smoke and mirrors that clouded the CAC decision, the council says it’s leaning into transparency this time.
“We decided to take applications and open up the process to encourage a diversity of folks to apply,” Baldwin told the INDY.
Applications for the District D seat will be accepted by the city until this Friday, July 10. You can find the application form on the city’s website, along with the names and applications of residents in the running. (As of Monday, 10 viable candidates have applied.) To qualify, you need to have lived in District D, which encompasses southwest Raleigh, for at least 30 days, be registered to vote in Wake County, and be over the age of 21.
After the application deadline, viable candidates will be asked to participate in a community forum on July 12 at 3:00 p.m. The council is then expected to make a decision—which will require five votes even with the absence of a member—on July 14.
Sounds simple enough, right? But the council has a lot to consider when deciding who is best to serve, and who might help quell bubbling public dissatisfaction. Will they be an ally of the development-friendly voting bloc on council or side with odd-NIMBY-out David Cox? What matters more, experience or diversity—and can we have both? Will they choose a one-term wonder or someone who plans to stick around if the voters let them next year?
Some vocal opponents of the current council—the same group that preaches about protecting the character of neighborhoods and views rampant development as a plague—want to bring back Kay Crowder, who received only 33 percent the votes in the October election before conceding the race to Martin, who had won 47 percent. Crowder was first appointed to the council in 2014 following the death of her husband, longtime council member Thomas Crowder. She went on to win election twice and served two full terms on the council.
Crowder, who did not return the INDY’s request for comment, wrote on Facebook that she would “be honored to serve out the remaining months of the term” if asked to do so.
“However, if appointed, I would also commit not to run for re-election to that office,” Crowder wrote. “Serving our community has been one of the great honors of my life, and it would a privilege to do so again during this difficult time.”
But others believe the council needs to focus less on experience and more on representing diverse voices in the community. Many back Stormie Forte, an attorney who works as ombudsman for the State Bureau of Investigations, according to her LinkedIn page.
“There has never been a Black woman elected to serve on the Raleigh City Council,” Forte wrote in a Facebook post. “I have had a number of conversations about my interest in pursuing the appointment to the seat. I am giving it very serious consideration.”
While diversity is important to District C representative Corey Branch, the council’s only member of color, he’s looking for a leader that can grasp the complex issues the city faces.
“I just want someone that can understand multiple forms of information at once because that’s what we do,” Branch says. “In a matter of an hour, I could talk to five different people about five different issues. You need someone that can multitask.”
Baldwin declined to comment on any of the candidates specifically.
“We are going to consider everybody fairly,” Baldwin says.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.