by Bob Geary
A postscript to what I wrote yesterday about Mayor Nancy McFarlane's "team" on City Council. McFarlane's committee assignments unfolded as I thought they would. In Raleigh, the mayor names committee members, usually based on what they want but not always; the seven councilors don't vote on it, however. McFarlane's appointments were made without comment.
But the council does vote on the mayor pro tem. I'd forgotten that, because under Mayor Charles Meeker, no council member ever questioned his choice of which council member it would be.
And yesterday, when McFarlane attempted to name Russ Stephenson as her pro tem, her choice was questioned — and changed.
Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin jumped in as McFarlane was asking for approval and offered her own pick: Councilor Eugene Weeks.
Baldwin's pitch: Diversity. Weeks is the council's only black member. He's been on council just one year (he was appointed to fill a vacancy, and was just elected to his first term in October). Stephenson's served three terms and is beginning his fourth. He's either the council's hardest-working member or I'm badly misinformed. Still, Baldwin said, "diversity needs to be celebrated in terms of leadership." She'd been asked by constituents in Southeast Raleigh to put Weeks' name forward, she said. "No affront" intended to Stephenson.
No affront to Stephenson, but this was McFarlane's very first act as the newly seated mayor. And Baldwin was challenging it, suggesting that the new mayor was insufficiently attentive to her black constituents.
Baldwin's nomination was contingent on Weeks wanting the post, she said. Weeks, who might've demurred, didn't miss a beat. He did want it, he said. John Odom promptly seconded Baldwin's motion.
Councilor Thomas Crowder, who'd seconded McFarlane's nomination of Stephenson, just as quickly jumped in with a "friendly amendment" — Stephenson and Weeks could share the job, Crowder said. One year each.
McFarlane swallowed hard, said she nominated Stephenson in recognition of his past contributions, and said all of her appointments were designed to draw on councilors' strengths. But she didn't fight the compromise (did she have five votes to back up her nomination?) and it passed unanimously.
The whole episode unfolded in about two minutes and whatever attention it might've drawn was subsumed later when the Council voted to oppose the anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.
Yesterday I said Stephenson and Weeks would be the key members of McFarlane's inner circle. Both supported her mayoral candidacy. She'd picked them to be chairs of important council committees — the comp-plan committee and public woks, respectively — and in addition was giving Weeks a seat on the Budget and Economic Development Committee, another plum.
Add Councilor Randy Stagner, McFarlane's hand-picked successor in District A, and Crowder to that group and you'd have a working five-member majority under McFarlane's leadership.
But maybe not.
Baldwin, who is not a McFarlane ally, is close to Weeks. Along with Odom, the council's only Republican, and Bonner Gaylord, the four of them could prove to be the real power center on council, especially on planning and development issues.
I don't want to read too much into one quick vote. But watching it, I was reminded of the councils under Meeker that were really controlled, not by the mayor, but by Councilor Jessie Taliaferro.
Like Baldwin, Taliaferro was a pro-developers Democrat, progressive on social issues but laisssez-faire when it came to giving the real estate industry whatever it wanted.
Meeker faced a choice of fighting Taliaferro's bloc of at least four pro-industry Republicans and Democrats ... and at best getting a stalemate ... or joining them and abandoning whatever smart-growth, pro-neighborhoods inclinations he might've had. He generally joined them, calling it "governing from the middle."
McFarlane, an independent with a progressive, pro-neighborhoods bent, says she wants to move the Council away from its laissez-faire past toward a "smart growth" future. (Thus, this headline on her interview the other day with WRAL.)
But on the eight-member Council, you need five votes to get things done. Four is only enough if you want to get nothing done.