The top five candidates for District D answered questions about affordable housing, police reform, and the future of the city Sunday during a virtual candidates forum.

Former District D council member Saige Martin abruptly resigned last month after allegations of sexual assault were brought to light by a News & Observer investigation. Martin has mostly denied the allegations. District D spans southwest Raleigh, including North Carolina State University, Glenwood South, and Dix Park.

The city received more than 50 applications from residents hoping to replace Martin, including the district’s previous representative Kay Crowder, who lost her re-election bid to Martin last year. 

Five finalists were chosen to participate in Sunday’s virtual forum: Stormie Forte, Jane Harrison, Todd Kennedy, Jenn Truman, and Carmen Cauthen. 

The city council has scheduled a special meeting on Tuesday, July 14, where it is anticipated one of the finalists will be appointed to fill out the rest of Martin’s term. 

During Sunday’s forum, the candidates fielded questions on an array of topics, including affordable housing and police reform. 

Forte, an attorney and longtime community volunteer, offered up a balanced approached to governing while also delivering the most detailed policy proposals of the bunch. On police accountability,  she wants to work with the general assembly but did not want to make promises for an oversight board the council may not be able to deliver. But to boost oversight, she wants to implement a local ombudsman program within the police department to allow officers to safely report misconduct. She also wanted the city to focus the affordable housing bond on lower-income families and ensure women and minority-owned businesses are prioritized when the time comes to awarding building contracts. 

“It’s an exciting time to be in Raleigh,” Forte said. “We also have some challenges. [I’m] definitely looking at dealing with the situation between the community and law enforcement and certainly having the affordable housing bond on the ballot.”

Jane Harrison, a Coastal Economics Specialist for the North Carolina Sea Grant, says her background in economic development and data-driven decision making quality her to represent the district. She was in favor of a police accountability board with subpoena and disciplinary powers. 

“When it comes to reprioritizing [police] budgets, what I would suggest is, is it possible to look at other models where they’ve taken some of their 911 calls and they have diverted them from the police to the social service providers that can address the issues?” Harrison said.

Carmen Cauthen, who is retired after a career working as an administrative clerk for the General Assembly, advocated for restructuring the police department, sharing that as an African American woman, she has been pulled over in her neighborhood simply for looking like she “didn’t belong.” When asked about what she would do if coronavirus cases continued to surge, Cauthen said the city would have to consider “moving backward,” in terms of reopening.

“I know that’s not a popular idea but I recognize that there are people who are disproportionally affected by this terrible, terrible disease,” Cauthen said.”I believe that we all have to do some things that we don’t necessarily want to do in order to protect more people.”

Jenn Truman, an apprentice at Matthew Konar Architect, believed her background in design would give her insight into managing the city. She said the city must work with the private sector on “making it easier to build missing middle gap housing.” 

The final candidate, Todd Kennedy, is a senior scientist and project manager at Moffatt & Nichol Position. In terms of affordable housing, he said the city needs “both affordable housing and housing affordability addressing all income levels,” which includes “programs that support both ownership and putting a roof over people’s heads.”

Watch the full forum here. 

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