It is hard to run for one of the two at-large seats on the Raleigh City Council, it’s hard to win and it’s hard to hold on to posts that by definition represent all parts of the city. Yet the council’s two incumbent at-large members, Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson, have been around awhile, Baldwin for four terms and Stephenson for five.
They both are seeking re-election. And both deserve another term.
Credible opponents have emerged. Matt Tomasulo, 33, was a graduate student at N.C. State when he started putting up signs telling people the time and walking distance between places of interest downtown. Today, he’s turned that into a big business. He’s a smart, imaginative guy who ought to be a resource for the city whether he wins a council seat or not. Developer Craig Ralph, 54, is a more conventional conservative, pro-business candidate. His family business has been involved in some large projects.
Incumbency isn’t a pass; officials have to have been productive. Those in office for multiple terms have to maintain their energy for the job, and after hundreds and hundreds of meetings and thousands of requests from constituents about everything from potholes to pigeons, that’s not easy.
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Yet Baldwin and Stephenson are naturally well suited to the role of city councilor.
Stephenson, 60, an architect, traces his Raleigh roots back four generations, though he lived all over the world as an Army kid. He was, in fact, born at West Point, N.Y.
Stephenson was active in civic affairs before joining the council, and he has a particular strength in understanding historic preservation, which is important in a growing city. He has also been strong on environmental protection and on the city’s comprehensive plan for development.
He favors mixed-income housing, a greater emphasis on the need for affordable housing and bringing a longer-range vision to zoning rules.
As an architect, Stephenson understands the pressures that can be brought to bear on elected officials by developers, who see gold in the Capital City, sometimes with shortsightedness as to the consequences of their projects. Stephenson has demonstrated he gets it when it comes to balancing those pressures.
Though he can seem unfocused, Stephenson has a pleasant nature and works hard. And he most certainly has contributed to guiding the city through the boom of what’s happened under the last two mayors.
Baldwin, 58, is a marketing and communications specialist. She’s a four-term council member, hard-working, dedicated to helping constituents, well-informed on issues and willing to research the history of a dispute or a proposal when something’s about to come before the council. She has lived in Raleigh for 26 years.
Like Stephenson, Baldwin has been strong on careful growth, the comprehensive plan, transit options (meaning, more of them) and Dorothea Dix park, for which she was an advocate. Baldwin would like to see the city encourage entrepreneurs, particularly women and those from the minority community.
Baldwin clearly intends to run for mayor two years from now, but Mayor Nancy McFarlane, seeking a third term, is indicating she might not call it quits after another term, if as expected she wins one. Baldwin may run anyway. If she does, she also likely will face council member Bonner Gaylord from District E. It could be an interesting year or two on the council.
This ambition is going to present a challenge for Baldwin if she wins another council term. She will be seen by some as using the next two years to run for mayor. She also will have to work on building better relationships with her fellow council members, who will be testing her loyalty to the council team as she looks at the mayor’s race.
Her aim for higher office may explain why, perhaps in an effort to draw support from younger voters, Baldwin made a bad call in backing downtown bar owners in their opposition to sensible council rules slightly curbing late-night hours of service on public sidewalks used by those downtown bars. As an at-large council member, her obligation, which she has admirably met in most cases, is to the city whole, not to this special interest group.
Overall, however, she and Stephenson have rendered good service and have earned re-election.