Mayoral and At-Large City Council Forum

Posted on Sep 12, 2019
Raleigh, NC

On Tuesday evening, 09/17/2019, the candidates for Raleigh City Mayor and the at-large city council members met at a forum at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Raleigh. The forum was hosted by the league of women voters, Phi-Psi-Delta, and Wake Up Wake County. All of the mayoral candidates showed up, though Charles Francis was late, and all but James Bledsoe, who was on military service, and Carlie Spencer (who knows where she was) showed for the city council race. It was an interesting forum–some of the candidates who I thought I wouldn’t like surprised me and the ones who I might naturally drift towards turned me off.

On the mayoral side of the race, although showing up only halfway through the debate, Charles Francis was clearly the best speaker and had the most compelling vision for Raleigh. The current city council has been treading carefully around the RDU quarry issue and has declined to take sides. Baldwin and Sullivan thought this was the right thing to do. Francis spoke up and said that, although there’s pending litigation, there’s no reason why as a matter of policy a candidate shouldn’t say what they would do. When asked what he would do with budgeting, he said he would try to cancel a $160 million city hall overhaul and instead try to build a city library right downtown. What a great idea! It would be great if there were a cultural place downtown that people could spend time at without having to spend a lot of money.

Although she has a lot of experience serving on non-profit boards, Sullivan seemed to be primarily running on feel-good platitudes. Baldwin hedged all of her answers, as if she thought that any answer she gave might only weaken her candidacy. That’s notable, given that she served on city council for ten years, from 2007 to 2017. Baloch, a young Muslim woman, said a good many things that might appeal to a national audience, but not a local one, a flaw I noticed last week with Saige Martin, too. Sutton seemed like a nice guy but didn’t really distinguish himself in any way. Knott, on the other hand, was a doom-and-gloom candidate. Some of his answers were quite compelling, such as the urgency of coming up with ways to address Raleigh’s 6000 homeless and avoid gentrification, but his cassandric omens of how Raleigh will turn into San Francisco in 20 years if we don’t do anything about it now seemed exaggerations.

I didn’t think I’d like Russ Stephenson, but he gave one of the most poignant answers of the evening as to why he was running. He said that he read a few years ago that Raleigh was ranked 95th out of 100 cities in how likely someone born into poverty would obtain economic opportunities, and he feels that equity and opportunity in development are the most important goals to strive for. His response to whether or not Raleigh should allow AirBnB in the city was nuanced and, I think, correct. It was that Raleigh should allow it, but it shouldn’t become a situation where people are buying houses or apartments to rent them out solely on AirBnB. This is a smart policy, and is also what one of the most equitable cities in Europe–Berlin–has chosen to do as well. Stewart agreed with him on this point, though there were clearly bad feelings between the two because she earlier in the night criticized Stephenson’s votes. Her support of bikes, scooters, and safe non-car transportation was heartening. At points Melton looked lost on the stage, though his answers, with the exception of the AirBnB policy, were pretty good. Rochelle laughable thoughts the city’s policy around scooters ought to be to protect drivers from them.