“Raleigh politics could use a reset,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said last week

In context, she was lamenting the “social disease” of “mean politics” that had “exploded” during her time in public life, which led her not to seek a fifth term. But her words could be read another way, too: The city’s median age is thirty-two, but McFarlane is sixty-two. Five of her seven colleagues on the city council are over sixty, as well.

A diverse crop of young city council candidates hopes to change that dynamic this fall. They argue that the city is being governed on behalf of a wealthy, aging elite and that the council is shutting the door on younger, less-affluent residents.

They also believe that the council’s development-skeptical majority—Russ Stephenson, David Cox, Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder, and Dickie Thompson—is more interested in protecting their fiefdoms than representing the city as a whole, and say they’ve failed to craft a long-term vision for the future.

“I think that they are not making choices that are good for all residents, and that is because they are not representative of all residents,” says Zainab Baloch, twenty-seven, who is running for one of two at-large council spots currently held by Stephenson and Nicole Stewart. “The decisions they are making are impacting our generation and generations after us, but we’re not represented at all in those decisions.”

“What we’re seeing a lot of right now is just some voices getting through, and those voices are blocking progress for all,” says Saige Martin, a twenty-eight-year-old who announced a campaign Monday against Crowder for the District D seat. “It’s quite easy to say no to something. It’s much harder to say what you believe. It is much harder to put forward a positive vision for the city.”

Other challengers include Patrick Buffkin, a thirty-five-year-old lawyer hoping to unseat District A’s Dickie Thompson (who did not respond to the INDY’s inquiry about whether he’s seeking re-election), and Brian Fitzsimmons, a thirty-six-year-old operations analyst and former chairman of the Wake County Democratic Party challenging David Cox in District B. Joining Baloch in the at-large races, thirty-two-year-old James Bledsoe hopes to give a voice to veterans, twenty-nine-year-old Robbie Rikard wants to invest more in transportation and affordable housing, and thirty-three-year-old divorce attorney Jonathan Melton says the city should do a better job embracing innovation and alternative transportation.

All of these candidates are younger than Stewart, currently the council’s youngest member at thirty-seven.

David Knight is not. The fifty-year-old director of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry is thought to be challenging Mendell in District E, though he says he hasn’t committed to run.

“I think like a young person,” Knight jokes. “I have a lot of experience in and around government. It’s not a bad thing to have all of that experience.”

They’ll be joined by some familiar candidates, including the libertarian-leaning Olen Watson, forty-seven, and Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi, rumored to be running against incumbent Corey Branch in District C. (She could not be reached Monday.)

At least part of the reason for the council’s generation skew is structural. In so many words: money. Council members are considered part-time and paid $17,412. For would-be candidates saddled with student loan debt or who have full-time jobs, that can be a barrier to entry that wealthier people and those of retirement age may not face.  

“You should be able to run without having a million dollars,” Baloch says.

Three of the candidates—Martin, Melton, and Rikard—are gay. They say historically disenfranchised groups like the LGBTQ community need more visible representation on the city council, which appears to have never before had an openly LGBTQ member.

“It’s not just age, it’s all around,” Martin says. “Our city is not just old, white, straight people. It simply isn’t.”

These candidates aren’t politically uniform, and they’re not running as a slate. But they generally align on issues like affordable housing and transportation—or, if not on the exact solutions, at least on the idea that the city council is not treating these issues with the urgency they deserve.

“Raleigh needs to go grow,” Bledsoe says, “and I feel that this current city council is holding back our city and really keeping us from going in the right direction.”

Beyond policy questions, the challengers say the city needs a council that plays nicer together.

“The council is dysfunctional right now, and it’s not about who is right or wrong,” Knight says. “It’s about getting things done. Things aren’t moving forward on the council, and that’s a problem.”

Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss by email at ltauss@indyweek.com, by phone at 919-832-8774, or on Twitter @leightauss.