by Bob Geary
The announcement by Mayor Charles Meeker a week ago that he will seek a fifth two-year term in October shut down any possibility that the other seven seats on the City Council would be shuffled. No Philip Isley versus one of the Democrats for Meeker's job, in other words. Thus, it seems the at-large councilors, Russ Stephenson and Mary-Ann Baldwin, will run for re-election and face nominal or no opposition, as will most of the council's district representatives. Or that's how it looks with the election less than six months off.
The one exception so far is in District D (Southwest Raleigh), where Councilor Thomas Crowder is gearing up for a challenge from fellow architect Ted Van Dyk. Van Dyk's been testing the waters for a couple of months, telling neighborhood leaders that while he shares Crowder's views on most issues, he thinks Crowder is too confrontational and, therefore, ineffective. When I called him today, Van Dyk said he's just about finished "mulling," and though he's taken no formal steps yet -- no campaign committee, no treasurer -- "I'm pretty set in my own mind that there needs to be a voice for cooperation and consensus-building" coming from the district. About Crowder, he went on, "I think he's given good community service, and I'm equally convinced that it's time for a change in tone about the issues."
For his part, Crowder yesterday held a campaign kickoff at The Pit, the barbeque joint across from the Amtrak Station, and drew a crowd of more than 100 neighborhood leaders and activists. Downtown developer and restauranteur Greg Hatem, who hosted, hailed Crowder's vision and passion for making Raleigh a great city. Nina Szlosberg, the University Park leader who sits on both the TTA and DOT boards, spoke and called Crowder him a fierce advocate for strong planning who "does ruffle some feathers -- but that's what leadership is."
Meeker, though not issuing a formal endorsement, also spoke on Crowder's behalf. He said District D is "very fortunate" to have Crowder as its representative, putting him in the same company as such esteemed former councilors as Miriam Block, Jim Quinn, Ron Kischbaum and Mayor Clarence Lightner -- leaders who could see the big picture about Raleigh's future while also staying on top of the most minute neighborhood concerns. "There's no trash can or blade of grass too small," Meeker joked, to merit Crowder's close attention. It was a reference to Crowder's determined pursuit of folks in his district -- especially absentee landlords who rent to students at NCSU -- who fail to keep up their yards or remove their trash cans from the street.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that Ted Van Dyk is my neighbor in Cameron Park; my wife is among Thomas Crowder's contributors. Thomas and Ted are two very bright men and talented architects whose approach to the City Council couldn't be more different: The one is a fighter with a pro-neighborhoods bent who wants developers held to higher standards, the other is a conciliator who thinks Crowder is too tough on developers and who today cited this quote from Ben Franklin favorably: "Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies."
[Update: By the way, for those who were on the receiving end of the robo-poll in District D last week asking whether they'd be more inclined to vote for a conciliator who gets along with all sides or a confrontational incumbent who's often on the losing end of 7-1 council votes, Van Dyk says he had nothing to do with it -- didn't ask for it or pay for it and doesn't know the results. His son got a call and hung up, he says. More on this angle next time.]