The incumbent has never won an election. The challenger is a political newcomer with broad community ties.
The contest between Kay Crowder and Ashton Smith to represent District D is expected to be one of the closest races for a Raleigh City Council seat.
Crowder has been southwestern Raleigh’s representative since last fall when the council appointed her to finish the term of her husband Thomas, who resigned during the middle of his fifth term after being diagnosed with cancer. He died in October and Crowder filled his seat in November.
Crowder aims to continue the family’s emphasis on protecting neighborhoods, while building better relationships with developers and council members than her husband did.
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Smith, the community-engagement project manager for Citrix in downtown Raleigh, thinks her education and civic involvement gives her a unique perspective on municipal government.
She often talks about adopting new technology to make Raleigh’s government more flexible and transparent, and she has benefited from her relationships with local businesses.
The candidates entered September having each raised nearly $40,000, with Smith reporting about $10,000 more on-hand than Crowder.
Crowder started campaign season with nearly $25,000 more than Smith. But Smith’s campaign garnered attention after the council in August decided to limit when bars and restaurants can serve customers on downtown sidewalks.
Smith opposes the rules because, she says, they hurt local business owners and have tempered the downtown environment. She thinks the city should have enforced existing rules and researched new regulations before enforcing them.
“If I lost nearly 30 percent of my business, I’d want someone to be my voice too,” Smith said of her supporters.
Crowder was one of five council members who voted for the rules, saying bar operators failed to abide by existing regulations and to govern unsafe behavior. She has suggested Smith is too business-friendly, and said bars that face uncertain futures because of the new rules should re-evaluate their business model.
“Is it perfect? No. Can we make it better? Yes,” Crowder said of the council’s decision.
Crowder says her voting record shows she’s willing to build relationships with business owners and is in the process of establishing a reputation apart from her husband’s.
She was one of two council members to vote against a new $5 public parking deck access fee that will start Dec. 31.
“We’re at a time in our city when we’re inviting people into downtown to promote economic development. Why would I add $5 to their tab?” Crowder said.
She noted her recent negotiations with developer John Kane as evidence she’s open to development so long as it fits the council’s vision.
Kane Realty earlier this year requested to rezone the site of a Dillon Supply Co. warehouse downtown in order to build a 17-story commercial tower and smaller residential building. Crowder, the swing vote, negotiated with Kane for weeks before agreeing to support his project under certain conditions.
“I have a different style than Thomas,” she said. “As opposed to just saying no, I have a style that’s a little more willing to look at all the issues and evaluate them and try to work our way to a compromise.”
Crowder takes credit for Kane’s incorporating more retail space on the side of the tower that will face Union Station, a downtown transit hub that will open in 2017. Kane also prohibited bars from the project – something Crowder says she didn’t ask him to do.
Smith also opposes the new parking deck fee and says she would’ve supported Kane’s project.
The candidates admit they share similar goals: protecting neighborhoods, boosting economic development, increasing affordable housing, improving the city’s transit system and promoting density downtown.
They say their biggest difference comes down to how they reach decisions.
Smith says the city should base its decisions on data and metrics.
“Let’s use that empirical information to drive our decision-making,” she says on her website. “It may not always support the direction our emotions pull us, but data is unbiased and a powerful tool at our disposal as we build our world-class city.”
Crowder described her platform this way: “I’m data and metric driven. At the end of the day, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the people.”
The city-owned property at 301 Hillsborough Street is an example of their differing philosophies.
Crowder opposed a decision by the council earlier this summer to sell the property to a high bidder – with few restrictions – through an ongoing auction process. Real estate experts say the land, valued at $3 million, might sell for twice that much.
Crowder thinks the city should require a buyer to build a grocery store and has heard as much from residents.
“It would give us the opportunity to knit together downtown and Glenwood South,” she said.
Smith sided with the council majority, saying the market should guide that type of development.
“If a grocery store is going to succeed we need a developer or grocery store representative to have the market data that supports that,” Smith said. “I don’t have access to that kind of information in my current role, and won’t venture to know better than those who do.”
Ashton Mae Smith
Born: Oct. 2, 1986, Charleston, S.C.
Occupation: Community and employee engagement project manager
Political experience: Board chair, Friends of the City of Raleigh Museum; Board member for DHIC Inc., a nonprofit that develops affordable housing. Former board member for WakeUP Wake County.
Education: Bachelor’s from N.C. State University’s College of Design.
Born: April 4, 1956, Raleigh
Occupation: Retired general sales manager for Durham Life Broadcasting, WPTF
Political experience: Appointed to City Council in November. Past president, treasurer for the Avent West neighborhood association.
Education: Graduate of Cary High School.