Raleigh voters have President Donald Trump to thank for this year’s historically crowded field of at-large candidates for city council.
Three of this year’s seven at-large candidates – Nicole Stewart, Rob Axtell and Zainab Baloch – said their bids were partially motivated by the dismay they felt over the results of the 2016 presidential election. All three are political first-timers.
“There was a big call for more women to run for office after last November’s election,” Stewart said. “I considered it, and my husband and I decided now was the time.”
But the onslaught of at-large candidates might also have something to do with political events closer to City Hall.
Until Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin announced this summer she would not seek re-election, there hadn’t been a vacant at-large seat on Raleigh’s council since 2007, when Baldwin was first elected. Russ Stephenson, her fellow at-large incumbent, has held his seat even longer – since 2005 – and he’s running for a seventh term this year.
Stacy Miller, who was briefly appointed to fill a council vacancy in 1997, is one of several candidates to say the city needs “new energy and new ideas” on the council as Raleigh grows and changes.
But as the incumbent Stephenson has noted, his fellow at-large candidates are largely “singing from the same hymnal.” The tune du jour? Greater investment in affordable housing and social equity programs, including increased access to transit, job training and social services.
In addition to choosing a district representative, all voters in Raleigh’s Oct. 10 election will choose two at-large council members to represent the interests of the entire city.
The candidates are:
▪ Bio: Alamin-Khashoggi, 54, was born and raised in Raleigh’s historically black Method community. She attended Athens Drive High School, Shaw University and received master’s degrees in public administration from North Carolina A&T State University and religious education from Shaw. Alamin-Khashoggi works as a constructed response rater at Education Testing Services and is the founder and president of the J.T. Locke Resource Center. She ran unsuccessfully for the District C council seat in 2011.
▪ Issues: Alamin-Khashoggi said she’s returning to city politics to advocate for aging, historically black communities like Method, which was recently threatened by proposals to widen I-440. She says Method and other vulnerable communities are being given short shrift when it comes to transportation planning, redevelopment and allocation of city resources.
▪ Endorsements/party affiliation: Alamin-Khashoggi is a registered Democrat and has been endorsed by the Wake County Democrats.
▪ Fundraising: Alamin-Khashoggi has received $4,888 in support and had $10.63 on hand as of Sept. 5.
▪ Her own words: “What’s happening now (at City Hall) is more about developers than it is about the community itself.”
▪ Bio: A Raleigh native and a graduate of Broughton High School and N.C. State University, Axtell, 48, is now a service manager for a real estate company that deals primarily with apartment complexes.
▪ Issues: Axtell says his line of work gives him a ground-level understanding of the city’s affordable housing problems. He said he’d like to make city government more accessible to everyday folks and prioritize marketing of city services and engagement opportunities.
▪ Endorsements/party affiliation: Axtell is a first-time candidate and an unaffiliated voter. But he said he’s “not a conservative, that’s for sure.”
▪ Fundraising: Axtell has said he will not be using private donations to finance his campaign.
▪ His own words: “There are private developers building no-frills, efficient communities, and they got funding from grants, not just from government, but from nonprofit groups, from individuals that all collaborated together to build this housing, There needs to be more marketing to these developers to come to Raleigh.”
▪ Bio: Baloch, 26, is a Raleigh native. She graduated from Broughton High School and N.C. State University, where she studied psychology. She is now pursuing her master’s in public administration from UNC and working for the state Department of Health and Human Services in the Division of Mental Health.
▪ Issues: Baloch said she’d like to help Raleigh spread the benefits of growth more evenly and “take pride in making housing affordable.” She’d also like to raise the minimum wage in Raleigh to match rising housing costs.
▪ Endorsements/party affiliation: Baloch is a registered Democrat and has been endorsed by the Wake County Democrats.
▪ Fundraising: As of the end of August, Baloch had raised $21,132, $6,800 of which was donated by family members. That includes $5,165 from her father Abdul Baloch, an auditor for the North Carolina Department of Administration. Baloch had $11,700 on hand at the end of August.
▪ Her own words: “I grew up here as someone who was not represented in government. Our community and minority communities in general lack people with expertise in government, so I’m trying to build my community from the ground up.”
▪ Bio: Miller grew up in Raleigh and attended Broughton, Wake Forest University and Campbell Law School. He now works as a trial lawyer and founding partner at Miller Law Firm in Raleigh. When he was 31, in 1997, Miller was appointed to serve out a term on the Raleigh City Council.
▪ Issues: Now 52, Miller wants to use tax-increment financing to encourage affordable housing development and use city-owned land near downtown to put affordable housing near transit. He said he believes he has the most specific, well-articulated plan to tackle the issue.
▪ Endorsements/party affiliation: Miller is an unaffiliated voter but one of just two Raleigh council candidates to earn the backing of the Wake County Republican party. The Raleigh Professional Fire Fighters Association and the Raleigh Police Protective Association have also endorsed Miller. Outgoing council member Mary-Ann Baldwin named Miller as one of the candidates she’d like to see in an at-large seat.
▪ Fundraising: Miller has raised $159,000, more than any of Raleigh’s three mayoral candidates. He’s spent $131,000 of that. Miller started the most recent filing period with $43,700 and ended with $10,120. That includes $5,000 from North Hills developer John Kane.
▪ His own words: “We need to recruit the big businesses downtown. That’s great. But we need a specific, strategic plan for the areas that have not enjoyed the same success as everywhere else. We need to build wealth from within the community.”
▪ Bio: Stephenson, a 61-year-old landscape architect by trade, is the longest-serving member on the Raleigh City Council. He attended N.C. State and has lived in Raleigh ever since.
▪ Issues: As an incumbent, Stephenson is touting the council’s recent allocation of $5.7 million a year toward affordable housing and partnerships with the county government on the issue. He said he’s proud of downtown’s revitalization during his time on council. But Stephenson said he hoped the council would be more willing to negotiate with downtown developers to secure community development benefits in exchange for denser, taller zoning.
▪ Endorsements/party affiliation: Stephenson, a registered Democrat, has been endorsed by the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, the Wake County Democrats, the Police Benevolent Association, the AFL-CIO and Equality NC.
▪ Fundraising: Stephenson has received $42,000 and had $27,500 on hand at the end of August. Developer John Kane gave $1,500, and former Raleigh mayor and developer Smedes York has given $1,000. Democratic state Rep. Cynthia Ball has given $3,500.
▪ His own words: “Ever since we had the success of reopening Fayetteville Street, that was the first marker that gentrification was going to follow. We can’t just have prosperity for a few. We have to have prosperity for all.”
▪ Bio: Stewart, 36, grew up in Apex and attended UNC-Wilmington. She now works as an organizer and fundraiser for the NC Conservation Network.
▪ Issues: Stewart said she’s passionate about the environment and wants to encourage the city to collaborate with other governments around the Triangle to manage air and water quality in the region. Specifically, she wants to ensure Raleigh does due diligence investigating environmental contamination at development and redevelopment sites.
▪ Endorsements/party affiliation: Stewart was one of two at-large candidates endorsed by Baldwin. She is a registered Democrat and has been endorsed by the Wake County Democrats.
▪ Fundraising: Stewart has raised a total of $69,000 and had $37,850 on hand at the end of August. $5,100 came from Sesha Debnam, whose husband is the CEO of Public Policy Polling, Dean Debnam.
▪ Her own words: “I don’t have huge critiques of this council. I think they’ve done a lot to pass us along over the last 10 years, but I think we’re at a point where we need new leadership. Some folks have been in Raleigh politics for a long time, and Raleigh’s ready for a new generation of leaders.”
Robert Ward IV
▪ Bio: Ward is a real-estate broker with Raleigh-based HTR Commercial.
▪ Issues: Ward has not returned calls from The News & Observer asking to speak with him about his campaign. He does not have a campaign website.
▪ Endorsements/party affiliation: Ward is a registered Republican.
▪ Fundraising: Ward has received $700 since filing to run and had $595 as of Sept. 5. Paul Fitts, the Wake GOP-backed candidate for Raleigh mayor, gave Ward $100.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan