Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Campaign website: MaryAnnForRaleigh.com
Occupation & employer: VP, Holt Brothers Inc. / Executive Director, Holt Brothers Foundation
Years lived in Raleigh: 26
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1) Given the current direction of Raleigh city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?
- Mary-Ann Baldwin
Our city is on the right course. Our biggest challenge is keeping up with growth and services while losing revenue due to legislative decisions. Hiring remain at the recession level while Raleigh continues to grow. You can see the financial strain particularly in inspections, planning, and permitting – we simply don’t have enough people to keep up with citizen expectations and demand. Moving forward, we will need to work closer with the legislature so they understand the impact their decisions have on our citizens, and look for ways to create efficiency in government.
2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identity your priorities for improvements in the district if you’re elected. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them.
The three most pressing issues are transit, affordable housing and growth – all of which are tied together. Because of growth, we need better transit options and more opportunities for affordable housing. We also need to develop denser development among growth corridors and employment centers to support transit. As a member of the Wake Transit Advisory Committee, I’ll continue to be a strong advocate for transit and passage of the referendum, and will continue to champion our strategic affordable housing initiatives.
As chair of the City’s Law & Public Safety Committee, we’ve effectively dealt with many controversial issues, such as feeding the homeless in Moore Square. Leadership requires problem solving skills, collaboration and vision. I’ve demonstrated this through my eight-year record of public service.
4) Please give one specific example of something you think City Council has done wrong or that you would have rather done differently in the last year. Also, please tell us the single best thing the city’s done during that span.
The best thing the City Council did is negotiate the successful sale of Dix Park, a unique opportunity and gift for future generations. One thing I wish we had done differently is better manage the private use of public space issue. The city should have been enforcing its noise, occupancy and sidewalk rules all along in downtown. Instead, we went to the extreme in introducing new rules and curfews on outdoor seating.
5) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?
I hate labels because I believe most people are a little bit of everything. But here goes: I’m socially progressive, a business and education Democrat, fiscally sensitive with a streak of libertarian.
6) The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?
Before running for office, I was involved with a number of non-profit organizations including Communities in Schools, which prepares children for success in life. That remains a focus. My goal is to help address issues of hunger, homelessness and affordable housing because everyone deserves an equal chance. And I believe our best chance at success must include a collective input from the private sector, non-profits, schools, the city and the county – all working together for the greater good.
Please address, in detail, the following major issues in Raleigh:
7) Now that the city has acquired the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Park, what are some specific things you would like to see the city do with it? What to do with the park is a generational decision. However, what the next City Council needs to decide first and foremost are basic issues: Who will govern the park? How do we pay for it?
What is the educational and public input process we will go through? Who will lead the effort? Once these questions are discussed and answered, we can begin a master planning process with national and local experts who can help guide the way – keeping in mind that we are planning a park for the future of Raleigh. It has to be visionary, community-spirited and unique.
8) Between gentrification in historic neighborhoods and expensive rentals downtown, the city has struggled at times with questions of affordable and workforce housing. What concrete steps can or would you take to help ensure that, for instance, hospitality workers can afford to live in Raleigh and especially its urban core? For example, there has been some talk of density bonuses to entice developers to include affordable units in their downtown developments. Do you believe this is a viable idea? Why or why not?
There are several things we must do: develop and approve a strategic plan for affordable housing, especially for city-owned properties; align our housing and transit policies (they currently conflict); ensure that current and future bond monies are adequate to meet the needs; and look at incentives. Incentives could range from waiving impact fees to low-cost leases on city properties. Based on studies, density bonuses generally don’t work unless the incentives are high. Durham, for instance, recently tripled its density bonuses to incentivize affordable housing near light rail stations because their one-to-one incentive was never used.
9) Related to affordable housing and affordability in general is viable public transportation. What steps can the city take to improve mass transit throughout the city? Will you actively support the transit referendum that Wake County will likely put to voters next year?
The City has been an active participant in the Wake County Transit Plan. We need to move forward with a new system that focuses on ridership, helps create higher density development patterns to support transit, and fund bus rapid transit options in high-use corridors. I will strongly support the transit referendum and do all that I can to assure its passage.
10) The city came under fire at Council meetings in July for the proposed remapping under the Unified Development Ordinance. It is safe to say there was a lot of uncertainty and distrust. Broadly speaking, how do you think the city should approach issues of density and neighborhood livability? And if the city had it to do over again, what about the UDO remapping do you believe should have been done differently, if anything?
When I look at all of the meetings that were held, the postcards and mailings that were sent, the website and phone banks that were set up, I thought we had done a good job of communicating. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Once the outdoor signs went up, it raised the level of awareness and I think there was a lot of misinformation and fear. On the other hand, that’s also why we hold public hearings – so the public’s voice can be heard. I think the Planning Department’s offer to contact all speakers and meet with a range of groups was prudent and gives us the opportunity to look for compromises and solutions.
11) Also on the subject of livability: The issue of regulating sidewalk patios hints at the difficulty this city (like other cities) faces in striking a balance between making its downtown more of a neighborhood and the needs of the businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry, that currently exist. How do you think the city should go about balancing these needs? What does a successful downtown look like to you?
A successful downtown is about diversity. It provides options for dining, drinking, and dancing. It offers live music, arts, creativity and retail. It embraces neighborhoods, high-density housing and thriving businesses – all of whom live, work and play together. More than anything, it’s about building community.
12) Some downtown businesses have worried that the parking-deck fees scheduled to go into effect at the end of the year will adversely impact them. On the other hand, there are obviously costs associated with both building and maintaining garages, and most other cities do charge for their use. What would be your ideal solution?
First and foremost, we need a plan to assist service workers. I voted against the fee increase because we didn’t have a plan in place. I would look at an approach where we charge for parking Friday and Saturday evenings after 7 pm, then phase in new charges as the city and demand grows.
13) Some recent legislative actions have seemed, to some extent, antagonistic toward the state’s cities: specifically, the repeal of business privilege taxes and the movement toward redistributing sales tax revenue. In your view, how should the city respond to these (potential and actual) revenue losses? Will the city’s property tax rate need to increase? Will services or new initiatives be curtailed? How should the city address its fiscal challenges going forward?
The repeal of the business privilege tax resulted in the loss of $7 million in revenue – a substantial hit. It has impacted our ability to provide services that the public and the development community demand, especially in the areas of inspections, permitting and planning. It also cost us a new initiative – our proposed Bike Share program. As far as the sales tax redistribution is concerned, this would be devastating. But I would need facts, data and numbers in order to respond specifically to this question.
14) The city has about 230 employees who earn less than what is generally considered to be a living wage, about $31,000 a year. In your view, is this problematic or something the city should concern itself with?
Everyone should be paid a living wage. The city is undergoing a pay classification review for employees and this issue should be addressed.
15) When is the bike share program going to happen?
When the private sector and other public entities that would benefit signal they are ready to participate financially and help support it. And when we have the money. Taking funding from sidewalks to pay for a Bike Share program didn’t make sense to me. If our goal is to create more walkable and bicycle-friendly communities, that wasn’t the right answer.
16) What do you believe the role of Citizens Advisory Councils should be? If you are running for a district seat, how closely would you work or have you worked with local CACs?
The CACs play a valuable role, but I also believe that technology and demographic changes in Raleigh require a review to ensure that we are reaching out to all citizens, including GEN XYZ, who are more reliant on technology to share their views.