Midtown Raleigh News

Challengers face uphill battle in some Raleigh election campaigns

It’s been a relatively quiet election season for several Raleigh City Council races, with challengers raising little money and struggling to get their message heard against well-established incumbents.

While North Raleigh’s District A has seen the most fundraising and debate on both sides, the mayoral contest, at-large races and the District C campaigns haven’t generated much noise.

After a hard-fought battle to succeed Charles Meeker in 2011, Mayor Nancy McFarlane has a staggering fundraising advantage over this year’s opponents. She’s garnered $160,000 in donations, while opponents Robert Weltzin and Venita Peyton brought in a few hundred dollars each.

In her first term, McFarlane has shown a more low-key leadership style than her predecessor. Her primary successes include negotiations with state leaders to create a park on the Dorothea Dix property, efforts to secure funding for Raleigh Union Station and the creation of small business and economic development offices in city hall.

Her campaign counts more than two dozen companies and 1,000 jobs that have moved to Raleigh since she took office.

“I’m honored to be your mayor, and very proud of all we’ve accomplished in the past two years,” McFarlane said. “This city has come a long way, and I’m excited to continue the work to keep Raleigh moving forward.”

But Peyton, a Realtor, neighborhood leader and perennial candidate for local offices, has attacked McFarlane for her role in firing the longtime city manager.

“There has been no legitimate reason offered for firing former City Manager Russell Allen and giving him $200,000 to go away,” Peyton said, adding that the process of finding a replacement has been shrouded in secrecy.

Peyton also criticizes the mayor for cutting funding for the Raleigh Business and Technology Center after a scathing audit, without first hearing from the incubator’s board.

Weltzin, a chiropractor and military police officer, has blasted Raleigh leaders for spending $72 million on arts and parks, noting that the fire department’s budget is smaller. He calls for diverting some of the arts funding to police and fire, as well as a new facility to feed Raleigh’s homeless population.

“I think we need to get back to the basics and control our spending,” he said. “Our policemen and firemen need proper representation, and I believe I can provide that.”

McFarlane has touted her support for the arts and backed an increase in grant funding this budget year, noting that the cultural resources have a huge economic impact.

Both Weltzin and Peyton think this year’s $75 million transportation bond package should have included a binding list of projects; the current arrangement allows the council to tweak the list of affected roads after the measure passes.

At-large seats

Two council members, Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson, are elected citywide. They’re both up for re-election on Tuesday.

The race has been quiet this year, with two challengers attracting fewer contributions . Jason Spriggs is a recent Wake Tech Community College graduate. He’s planning to attend law school soon and says he’s learned the ropes of local government through a program called the City of Winston-Salem University when he lived there in 2012.

Running on the campaign theme of “I Am You,” Spriggs says he wants the city to work on poverty and drug-abuse issues, foster small businesses and streamline local taxi services and fares.

The other challenger, Rob Williams, is the director of technology at St. David’s, a private elementary and high school. His campaign has been largely inactive – a mostly blank website and a single campaign contributor.

“I think politics today are terribly divisive from the national level on down,” he said after filing for office in July.

Baldwin is seeking her fourth term on the council. She is the vice president for marketing and business development at Holt Brothers Construction.

Baldwin is known for her work with local entrepreneurs, co-founding the Innovate Raleigh initiative to foster the start-up business climate. She also helped create the city’s economic development office and led a communications task force to better brand Raleigh.

Stephenson, an architect, was first elected in 2005. He chairs the council’s comprehensive planning committee, where he takes a hands-on approach to balancing new development proposals and neighborhood concerns.

He’s a proponent of walkable, mixed-use developments, environmentally friendly design and increased transit opportunities.

District C

Southeast Raleigh’s District C pits incumbent Eugene Weeks against two long-shot challengers.

Weeks, a retired Broughton High School teacher, was first appointed in 2010 to fill the seat of departing Councilman James West. He’s touting his work in the district, pushing for healthy food options after the departure of a Kroger grocery store and securing funds for new bus shelters and an expansion at the Martin Luther King Jr. Gardens.

Challenger Racquel Williams is making her second run for Weeks’ seat. She’s calling her campaign “Righteous in Authority” and says she decided to run after hearing a call from God. She wants to foster better partnerships between the two historically black colleges in the district, Shaw University and Saint Augustine’s University.

A second challenger, Marcus Hill, is a familiar face at Raleigh City Council meetings. He leads a group called the Greater Raleigh Resistance, which lobbies the council monthly to end water fluoridation, a practice Hill compares to the chemical weapons used in Syria. He also opposes the city’s emphasis on sustainability.