Watch the throne: Three young, credible challengers seek to upend the Raleigh City Council | Wake County | Indy Week

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Watch the throne: Three young, credible challengers seek to upend the Raleigh City Council

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One thing Matt Tomasulo says about the upcoming elections in Raleigh is undoubtedly true: The young challengers would bring fresh perspectives to the bristling growth issues that are close to a boil on a fractious City Council.

"Right now, it's pretty hostile," Tomasulo offers.

Hostile? Sure. Think downtown drinking and noise. Think the reviled Unified Development Ordinance. Think downtown rezoning and the issue of whether to approve buildings up to 40 stories without negotiating for design amenities, retail space or contributions to affordable housing.

Also true: October's municipal election features the strongest group of younger candidates in many years, including: Tomasulo, running in a four-way race for two at-large seats currently held by Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson, both of whom are seeking re-election; Corey Branch, trying to unseat Eugene Weeks in District C (Southeast Raleigh); and Ashton Mae Smith, up against Kay Crowder in District D (Southwest Raleigh).

These challengers are bright, self-confident and eager to serve. All believe new blood is needed, if only to reflect Raleigh's growing numbers of young people. All appear to be running campaigns with a shot at winning.

That said, they're not interchangeable. And there's a huge difference in the incumbents they might replace. Thus, depending on what you think the problem is in Raleigh, electing the young folks could help your cause or harm it.

On top of which, you can't separate the candidates by party. Branch and Weeks are Democrats. Tomasulo and Smith are unaffiliated, as is Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

But McFarlane's closest allies on Council are Stephenson and Crowder, both Democrats. Baldwin, a frequent McFarlane rival, is also a Democrat. (On the ballot, no parties are listed—it's ostensibly a nonpartisan election.)

Instead of party, the dividing line is growth and how to manage it—or not. The crude but useful division is between the "pro-neighborhoods" and "pro-developers" camps—between those who rarely question a developer's project and those who want those projects to "fit" their surroundings and advance the city's goals.

My bias is no secret: I'm on the neighborhoods' side. I think Raleigh is too quick to settle for scattered, mediocre development that undermines our ability to establish a first-rate transit system, provide affordable housing and build an inclusive city. And I'm friends with Stephenson and Crowder, Council's leading advocates for neighborhoods.

But the challengers are also saying good things about transit, housing and raising the bar for development. And talking about the poor job city government does of communicating with residents, and about the need to reach out beyond the usual suspects to gather input from people who can add to the decision-making process.

The more people who get involved, the three all say, the better the decisions. Especially missing in the process right now: young people.



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