Notes From Raleigh City Council Forum

Posted on Sep 12, 2019
Raleigh, NC

Raleigh city councilmember candidates from districts A-E met Tuesday evening at the Universalist Unitarian Church on Wade Avenue in Raleigh. All candidates attended, with the exception of April Parker from District D–more evidence supporting my guess in my last post that she’s not really serious about running. About 150 people attended the forum, most were older with at least some white or gray on their top. There were a few smatterings of younger people there but most of them appeared to be campaign helpers of Saige Martin, the 28-year-old NC-State graduate student candidate for District D. The candidates who attended were:

District A

  • Joshua Bradley
  • Patrick Buffkin
  • Sam Hershey

District B

  • David Cox
  • Brian Fitzsimmons

District C

  • Corey Demont Branch
  • Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi
  • Wanda Hunter
  • Ricky Scott

District D

  • Kay Crowder
  • Brittany Bryan
  • Saige Martin

District E

  • Stef Mendell
  • David Knight

In what appears to be a symptom of the legacy of segregation in Raleigh, all of the candidates in District C were African American, whereas all of the other candidates in Districts A, B, D, and E were white. The conversations in Districts A and C were the most interesting.

District A has no incumbent defending the seat so the three men running al have to describe their vision for Raleigh rather than just attack the incumbent, which is what candidates in districts B, C, D and E all did. District A also had what appeared to be the most intellectually diverse group of candidates. Joshua Bradley was the only candidate who explicitly called attention to the political party he belongs to, the Workers’ Party, and mentioned that he is a socialist. On the other end, Sam Hershey’s answers to questions such as “should conversion therapy be illegal?” betrayed what appeared to be a basically conservative philosophy. Buffkin came across as the most practiced of them all, and although his opening and closing statements seems overly rehearsed, I appreciate the time he took to prepare for the forum, something that not all of the candidates bothered to do. District B has Brian Fitzsimmons challenging David Cox. Cox is popular and Fitzsimmons failed to differentiate himself.

District C saw Hunter and Alamin-Khashoggi criticising Branch on every practical occasion they could. In the most memorable answer of the evening, upon being asked what her viewpoint on the proposed soccer stadium in Southeast Raleigh was, Hunter answered: “my answer, until women soccer players are being paid as much as male soccer players, is no. When the women are being paid as much as men we can talk.” Scott, who is blind, had many great ideas about integrating disabled people, who are 10% of Raleigh’s population, into civic life. Branch, who I can’t say I care for, seemed to be proudest of the fact that Raleigh widened many streets since the time he’s been in office, but the other candidates were concerned about the effect of that the new bus rapid transit would have on their neighborhoods and businesses.

In District D, Martin took every opportunity he could to criticize Crowder. While his message about ensuring a safety net for Raleigh’s most vulnerable, including the homeless because of his experience growing up homeless, his indignation about the myriad injustices in Raleigh didn’t really resonate with the crowd. It’s my impression that a lot of Raleigh’s inhabitants are largely content with how things are going. Bryan, on the other hand, vocalized many of the same issues that Martin did, including how poor transportation options are for people who don’t want to drive a car, yet did so in with a “can-do” attitude. Bryan, like Buffkin, performed very well in the debate. Crowder, and all of the incumbents for that matter, emphasized the importance of experience, an easy message when running against two folks who appear to be in their 20s and 30s. Yet I didn’t really hear her vocalize her vision for the city and name any areas where Raleigh’s currently doing poorly, such as creating sidewalks and separated bike lanes.

In District E, David Knight took every opportunity to criticize city council’s incumbents. His pet projects seem to be greenways and watersheds, having worked for environmentally-focused organizations for the past 25 years. Yet I found many of his attacks off-putting, in particular because the incumbent, Stef Mendell, voted the same way he says he would have. In addition, his phone rang multiple times during the forum, and his excuse that he needed it on because his wife might call, it showed a lack of respect for everyone else in the room. Stef Mendell did a good job refuting a lot of his attacks, and Knight looks like he would be a most contentious member on the council if he were to be elected.