Fast and Furious: Raleigh Mayoral and City Council Candidates Sprint to the Finish Line | Wake County | Indy Week

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Fast and Furious: Raleigh Mayoral and City Council Candidates Sprint to the Finish Line

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It's a short, strange trip.

On the national political scene, President Trump has pretty much been running for reelection since Inauguration Day, and there are at least a dozen Democrats already readying to challenge him in 2020.

Municipal races in Raleigh, on the other hand, usually start and end in about four months—from candidates' filing deadline in July to Election Day on October 10. Unless there are runoffs, that's it.

There are some quirks in this year's contests that, anecdotally at least, appear to have some voters postponing commitments.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane, an independent first elected in 2011, faces a challenge from Raleigh lawyer and banker Charles Francis, who's running as a Democrat in the officially nonpartisan race.

The decision of sitting at-large city council member Mary-Ann Baldwin not to run again means that Russ Stephenson, the panel's other at-large incumbent, is facing six newcomers. They include the well-funded, Republican-endorsed Stacy Miller; environmentalist Nicole Stewart, endorsed by former Mayor Charles Meeker; and Zainab Baloch, an energetic candidate of Muslim faith.

With the election less than two weeks away, candidates are hitting parks, picnics, forums, and meet-and-greets in private homes.

"We've done incredible things with the city," McFarlane recently told a group of followers at the Players' Retreat, near N.C. State. "It really is a team sport."

Voters are generally talking about traffic, growth, and affordable housing, candidates say. At McFarlane's rally, supporters such as Wake County commissioner John Burns—a Democrat—praised her leadership in knotty affairs like working through contracts with the state to purchase the Dorothea Dix property for a city park.

"We certainly have challenges, but we've been looking at challenges for ten years," said McFarlane.

Not far away, Francis drew a late-afternoon crowd to Club Noir on Glenwood South. He was working to convince those gathered that he'll be able to come up with real solutions for problems in Raleigh and that he has ideas that will lift up people all over town.

"I'm running for mayor so that more people can win," Francis said. "I am running now because we need a change in the mayor's office."

Francis faults McFarlane for not doing enough to create new affordable housing and to preserve existing units. (McFarlane notes that last year the city council passed a one-cent property tax increase dedicated to building and rehabilitating affordable housing.)

The issue is a big one for attendee Briana Garcia, a thirty-one-year-old state employee.

"I'm still living at home with a bachelor's degree," Garcia says. Like many voters, Garcia is still gathering information before deciding how to cast her ballot.

That's fine with Republican mayoral candidate Paul Fitts, who's partaking in voter forums and other events, spreading his doctrine of lower taxes and reduced city debt.

"My message is entirely different from the other two candidates," Fitts says. "Most people don't even recognize how much debt we have."

In addition to the mayoral candidates, people running for the city's seven city council seats are hitting events as well as going door-to-door to meet with voters.

Stefanie Mendell, who's opposing incumbent Bonner Gaylord in District E, was knocking on doors in the largely suburban district Monday. "They really feel like developers have too much influence on the city," Mendell says.

Gaylord says his conversations with voters reflect a citywide survey that showed most residents really like Raleigh.

And as for development?

"There's no process or policy within the city that can't be improved," he says. "So I welcome any specific improvement that could be suggested."

On his website, Gaylord adds: "We got where we are today by changing and adapting and I want to make sure we find innovative solutions to our challenges that keep our current residents while attracting new ones."

First-term council member David Cox has also been going door-to-door, discussing his sometimes contrarian view of development as he attempts to defeat longtime Raleigh politician John Odom for the second time in a row.

"We're at the point where we are out and going door to door," Cox says. "It's looking good, but we're not making any assumptions."

In the District C race in southeast Raleigh, incumbent Corey Branch is not only making plenty of stops, he's also active on social media sites, notably Instagram. He's got four opponents: James Bledsoe, Crash Gregg, Olen Watson III, and Jeff Stewart.

At campaign appearances, Branch stresses his work on the priorities of inclusive economic growth, better communication from the city to the public, and "frequent and reliable" public transit. Branch notes his roles with the Raleigh Transit Authority and the Wake County Transit Advisory Committee.

"I'm not just talking about these things. I'm doing them," he frequently says on the stump.

On Thursday comes one of the season's most closely watched events, a candidate forum sponsored by WakeUp Wake County, the Delta Sigma Theta Raleigh Alumnae Chapter, and the Wake League of Women Voters. The event lasts from seven p.m. to eight-thirty p.m. Thursday at Avent Ferry United Methodist Church, 2700 Avent Ferry Road, Raleigh.

tgoldsmith@indyweek.com

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