Thanks to a strong showing in the primary by challenger Charles Meeker, the Raleigh mayoral race is up for grabs. Though incumbent mayor Paul Coble garnered 49.2 percent of the vote, just 335 votes shy of the 50 percent needed to win re-election outright, Meeker ran a close second with 47.7 percent. IBM executive Joel Cornette finished a distant third with 2 percent of the vote and therefore did not qualify for the Nov. 6 runoff.
The balloting on Nov. 6 will pit the developer-friendly policies of the conservative Coble against the more citizen-involved, planned-growth policies of Meeker, who supports impact fees on developers and mandatory involvement of neighborhood groups in rezoning debates.
Most notable in the primary was Meeker's impressive performance in North Raleigh, a traditional Coble stronghold. Although he won only two of the area's precincts, Meeker put up a valiant fight in a number of others where the incumbent eked out razor-thin victories. The challenger's strong showing in this more conservative section of the city is likely a result of voter disenchantment over "Coker Towers," the proposed (and subsequently withdrawn) mixed-use development between Wade Avenue and Oberlin Road. For many in the area, the project has come to symbolize the development-at-all-costs approach of the current administration--an approach Meeker, a lawyer, former mayoral candidate and former city councilor, has vowed to change.
Combined with his heavily Democratic inside-the-beltline support and an immediate post-primary endorsement from Cornette (whose 767 vote total was greater than the margin separating Coble and Meeker), Meeker finds himself in a good position to take over Raleigh's top spot. However, much will depend on how many folks decide to come to the polls on Nov. 6--especially in such traditional Democratic strongholds as Southeast Raleigh, where an uncontested City Council seat and the neutrality of several key community leaders may work to suppress voter turnout. Given his stronger-than-expected showing in the northern part of the city, the key to the race could lie in Meeker's ability to bring out voters in Southeast and inner-beltline areas already partial to his brand of citizen-friendly politics.
City Council At-Large
In the at-large City Council race, four candidates are competing for two seats. The primary's top vote-getter, Janet Cowell, fell just 199 votes shy of reaching the 25-percent-plus-one total needed to win outright. The three other runoff qualifiers are second-place finisher and Raleigh Planning Commission chair Neal Hunt, incumbent Mort Congleton and former mayoral candidate Venita Peyton. It is our sincere hope that Cowell, an associate director for the Common Sense Foundation and a strong advocate of citizen involvement, environmental causes and controlled growth, will lead the pack in the November runoff, as well. The well-rounded Democrat with extensive national and international business experience is by far the best choice for an at-large seat.
Congleton did not receive an Independent endorsement in the primary due to his disappointing fence-straddling on the "Coker Towers" proposal. Instead, we recommended Andrew Leager, who failed to qualify for the runoff. Given the current field of four, Congleton's respectable voting record on the council--which includes votes for citizen involvement in the rezoning process and against commercial development in environmentally sensitive watershed regions--is enough to earn him a nod for the at-large seat. Hopefully, he has learned from his constituents' outrage over his mishandling of the Coker situation and will think twice before considering development interests over those of neighborhoods.
Hunt, a moderate Republican, supported the Coker project because of its mixed-use nature. Though he does agree that developers should be required to meet with neighborhood groups prior to submitting a rezoning proposal, Hunt's stance on the Coker project suggests he's not someone who'll be a brake on powerful development interests.
Peyton, a Democrat from Southeast Raleigh, has become a strong Coble ally since throwing her support behind him in his successful 1999 election. Though genuinely concerned with the plight of her Southeast community, Peyton's close alliance with the incumbent mayor spells trouble for a council sorely in need of independent, forward-thinking members.
Cary Town Council
Voters did a good job of winnowing eight candidates for an at-large seat on the Town Council to two. Good, that is, in that they put Julie Robison in first place and gave her a weak opponent in Nelson Dollar, who finished well back in second.
We endorsed Robison, an urban planner who works for the nonprofit Research Triangle Institute, in the first round because she's smart, principled and independent. She's on the correct side when it comes to the complex growth issues that Cary is finally tackling, is generally supportive of what Mayor Glen Lang and the council majority is doing, but concerned as well that "slow growth" policies don't turn into selfish no-growth that hurts working folks the most.
We still like Robison, who's run a first-rate campaign; and we still think Dollar, a conservative campaign and public-relations consultant, is wrong in his strident attack on all things Lang-ian. Cary is in catch-up mode, paying for neglected infrastructure (roads, water and sewer facilities, parks and open space) after many years of giving go-go developers their head. Bottom line: Such investment isn't "reckless, wasteful spending," as Dollar would have us believe; it's spending to make up for reckless, wasteful development practices. Dollar is trying to make an issue out of the current recession, saying Cary can't afford to be anti-business. But we haven't heard anything anti-business out of Robison, only an appreciation for the fact that Cary will attract more business in the long run if it invests in quality-of-life services now.
Wake School Board
The two better candidates ran a close one-two in the three-way race in District 7, North Raleigh, to replace retiring member Judy Hoffman. We repeat our endorsement of Patti Head, who came in first, while also repeating that runner-up Ruthie Jones is well equipped to serve too.
The Wake board members are the hardest-working folks in the education biz, grappling with the complexities of staff and student performance in 123 schools. Yes, they stumble from time to time, as they did trying to convert Stough Elementary into a year-round school where some students--for the first time--would be involuntarily assigned. Jones, a former Stough PTA president, was among the parents who fought that off, and as a candidate for the board she's sounded nothing but reasonable notes.
Still, Head can't be held responsible for the mess-up. And she's earned her chance to help lead the board with 19 years of PTA participation and seven years as a member of the board of the Wake Education Partnership, the system's nonprofit support arm.
No question, the latter makes her the establishment candidate. If the board needed shaking up, voters could probably look to Jones. But since we think it's doing a good job, and since recent turnover on the board (including Amy White's Oct. 9 victory over incumbent J.C. O'Neal in District 2) means seven of the other eight members have served for one term or less, there's every reason to recognize Head's contributions. That's why, between two candidates who agree on every issue, we suggest voting for Head.