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Raleigh mayoral candidates explain how they’ll tackle the city’s pressing issues

Housing affordability. Transit. Economic development.

The six candidates who want to be Raleigh’s next mayor tend to agree on the major challenges facing the city. But their approaches to addressing them set them apart.

Five of the six mayoral candidates outlined their plans to address growth and development during a candidates forum at City Club Raleigh on Thursday. It’s one of many forums held in recent weeks as the city moves closer to its Oct. 8 election.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is not seeking another term, having served as mayor since 2011.

Former Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan, 53, put her fingers together to create a triangle to explain how she would address the city’s top three issues.

“We need to look at this through this equity triangle,” she said. “And I put housing, transportation and economic opportunities in that triangle. You have to address all three at the same time and in this collaborative way.”

She pointed to her experience on the county board and working with nonprofits, federal government and the business community to explain why she excels at putting people together to find common ground.

Addressing the diversity of housing and transit will simultaneously improve job creation, equity and environmental challenges, said Mary-Ann Baldwin, 62, a former Raleigh City Council member.

“They are all tied together,” she said, pointing to her leadership and experience to translate ideas into action.

She cited bringing Citrix to downtown’s Warehouse District; rallying around Oak City Cares, a center that provides a variety of services for the homeless; and the successful purchase of Dix Park as proof of her leadership skills.

Charles Francis, a 56-year-old lawyer who ran against McFarlane two years ago, said his experience outside of government and in the private sector will bring the “efficiency of business” to city government.

He said people need to agree that city government must take care of its core functions: public safety, water and sewer, sanitation, transportation and “enabling and regulating development.”

“There are some areas where we do a good job, like water and sewer,” he said. “There are some areas like enabling and regulating development where we are horrible. We are horrible. Everyone I talk to, from someone who wants to build a house to large developer, tells me that the development services department take too long and it’s too expensive to get through that process.”

Justin Sutton, a 30-year-old procurement attorney for the state of North Carolina, wants the city to create economic development opportunities by reviewing its current policies, cutting “wasteful spending” and establishing a budget oversight committee.

“I want to be able to provide more business opportunities for our small business community,” Sutton said. “And we do that by making policies to strength our core economic functions. We have to rewrite how we do business.”

Zainab Baloch, a 27-year-old community activist, asked that Raleigh residents reflect on who the city is being built for.

“We need leaders and elected officials who are going to put the needs of the people first and really build that vision to include everyone in Raleigh,” Baloch said. “And make that vision include everyone and not just the wealthiest few.”

She specifically called out candidates for accepting donations from developer John Kane, of Kane Realty, because Kane had also donated to President Donald Trump. Kane Realty is behind some of the city’s biggest real estate projects, including North Hills and The Dillon.

“It’s been really hard to digest, but I’ve learned that Raleigh’s politics is pretty corrupt,” Baloch said. “I understand that many of our politicians and candidates are running on promises of equality and affordable housing. Yet these same candidates are accepting money form luxury real estate developers who are pushing working families, who have lived here for generations, out of Raleigh.”

George Knott, a 41-year-old musician, is the sixth candidate for mayor, but was not included in the forum.

The City Club only invited the “top five polling” candidates for the mayoral position, according to Orage Quarles III, who helped convene the forum and is a former publisher of The News & Observer

The event was co-sponsored by The News & Observer and ABC11. The moderators were the N&O’s Deputy Metro Editor Mark Schultz and ABC11 anchor Joel Brown.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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