Wake County

Raleigh City Councilman Thomas Crowder resigns as health declines

Raleigh City Councilman Thomas Crowder says his cancer treatments have been unsuccessful.
Raleigh City Councilman Thomas Crowder says his cancer treatments have been unsuccessful. cseward@newsobserver.com

City Councilman Thomas Crowder resigned Wednesday as his health declined in his battle with testicular cancer.

The announcement brings Crowder’s 11-year tenure on the council to a sudden close. The 58-year-old architect has created a legacy of fierce fights for neighborhood protections, along with frequent votes against developments he felt were a poor fit for Raleigh.

The votes cast on behalf of Southwest Raleigh’s District D, however, likely won’t change much. His wife, Kay Crowder, will fill the remainder of his term. The council appointed her last week, and she was sworn in Wednesday morning at the Crowders’ home. She will serve until December 2015.

Earlier this month, longtime Southwest Raleigh representative Crowder announced that he’d “exhausted all options for a cure” in his battle with testicular cancer. He promised to serve as long as his health allowed, and asked fellow council members to allow his wife to finish the term.

Cameron Park resident Neil Riemann says that promise says a lot about the councilman. “I think it says that he had what most of us aspire to: He had a job that he loved,” Riemann said. “He loved the city too.”

Crowder’s resignation came suddenly – his absence from a council committee meeting Tuesday caught Mayor Nancy McFarlane by surprise. And he’d been scheduled to fill in for Councilman Russ Stephenson by chairing a comprehensive planning committee meeting Wednesday.

Wednesday’s meeting would have addressed neighborhood concerns about a new student apartment complex in the heart of Crowder’s district – just the sort of debate he thrives on. The meeting was canceled.

Avoiding ‘second-rate Atlanta’

Crowder has been a polarizing figure since he first entered Raleigh government in 1999 as a planning commission member. He proved outspoken as the commission debated the massive Coker Towers project on Oberlin Road, which was ultimately scrapped.

Some City Council members didn’t want to give Crowder a second term, but he remained on the commission until he won his council seat in 2003 by defeating incumbent Benson Kirkman.

In the campaign, Crowder posed a question that’s still relevant in growth debates: “Do we want a first-rate Raleigh? Or are we going to be a second-rate Atlanta?"

On the council, he has often been the lone dissenting vote on major issues. He voted against the Fayetteville Street renovation because he preferred a wider street, and he opposed the downtown Marriott because he wanted higher quality materials than fake stucco.

More recently, he has opposed new apartment buildings on Hillsborough Street and in Cameron Village that he and some neighbors felt were too tall. His votes irked developers who complained that he used the council role to mandate his own architectural preferences. But his stance endeared him to those who shared his views.

“Thomas Crowder took principled stands on a number of issues, particularly planning issues,” former Mayor Charles Meeker said. “He brought his architect’s training to the council table and sparked helpful discussions.”

Fighting for District D

Crowder has also fought hard on issues directly affecting Southwest Raleigh. He has tackled concerns about rental housing in neighborhoods where permanent residents live alongside N.C. State students, from creating a landlord registry to banning front-yard parking.

He pushed for the renovation of Pullen Park, even walking out of a 2006 budget meeting when he felt the carousel’s needs were being shortchanged. And he has taken an active role in Hillsborough Street’s revitalization, helping push through streetscape improvements amid heated debate over roundabouts and other design elements.

Earlier this year, he sought funding to renovate aging neighborhood centers that he worried were being left behind as Raleigh builds shiny new parks facilities.

“Thomas will fight for his district, even if it means going against the grain,” community activist Octavia Rainey said. “He is the model for what a district representative should be.”

City officials said in a news release that the Crowder family has requested privacy, and they encouraged well-wishers to submit messages of support to the public affairs department at public.affairs@raleighnc.gov or by calling 919-996-3100.