Wake County

After 10 years on Raleigh council, Baldwin won’t seek re-election

Former Raleigh City Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin was removed from the GoTriangle board. City Council Member Russ Stephenson was named to fill the remainder of Baldwin's four-year term
Former Raleigh City Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin was removed from the GoTriangle board. City Council Member Russ Stephenson was named to fill the remainder of Baldwin's four-year term ehyman@newsobserver.com

Mary-Ann Baldwin, a polarizing figure on the Raleigh City Council who has been supportive of new development near N.C. State University and drew criticism for posting a picture on social media of her dog urinating on a column at the General Assembly, will not seek re-election this fall.

Baldwin, 60, announced Friday that she will not try to keep the at-large seat on the council she has held since 2007. She said she feels comfortable leaving the council because at-large candidates Stacy Miller and Nicole Stewart will bring “bold leadership and youthful energy” to the council.

In every election since 2009, Baldwin garnered more votes than every other council candidate except the mayor. In a statement, Baldwin thanked her supporters and said she made the “difficult” decision after thinking about it for six months.

“At some point, we must encourage and enable our young leaders to take their seats at the table, and I am now at that point,” Baldwin said. “Having confidence in Stacy’s and Nicole’s abilities to lead, I will not be seeking re-election this year.”

Baldwin works as executive director of the Holt Brothers Foundation and co-founded Innovate Raleigh, a nonprofit that helps startup businesses. She’s known for her blunt, no-nonsense style, support of the local tech community and her public spats with other council members, especially fellow at-large member Russ Stephenson.

Former Mayor Charles Meeker praised Baldwin for being one of the most progressive Raleigh council members, crediting her with helping revitalize Hillsborough Street near N.C. State and Fayetteville Street downtown. Her votes helped direct city money to upgrades at City Plaza and to sidewalks, medians and bike lanes on Hillsborough.

“In 2007, she helped break the logjam to make way for the Hillsborough Street Renaissance as well as the second phase of Fayetteville Street,” Meeker said.

“The previous council didn’t want to spend the money,” he added. “The council split four-four. Then she got on and boom, we were moving ahead.”

Deborah Ross, a former U.S. Senate candidate, represented Raleigh in the state House of Representatives when Baldwin was a liaison to the legislature. Ross described Baldwin as a “bridge-builder” who can find common ground with anyone.

“She’s a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-something-done person,” Ross said.

Baldwin’s deep ties in the development community and Democratic Party helped her become one of the most successful and polarizing figures on the council.

She often clashed with more growth-leery council members and was sometimes the lone supporter of new construction proposals. Earlier this month, she openly criticized her fellow council members for rejecting a proposed mixed-use development on Hillsborough Street because it would be five stories tall – not four, as some wanted.

As an outspoken Democrat, Baldwin drew the scorn of conservatives in 2013 when she posted a photo online of her dog, Jack, urinating on a column at the N.C. General Assembly. She wanted to “express her frustration” with Republican lawmakers who wanted to revoke Raleigh’s lease of Dix Park, which the city later purchased from the state.

In 2015, Baldwin’s support for local bars and restaurants prompted liberal activist Dean Debnam to run attack ads against her for trying to “reshape” downtown into “Drunktown.” Nonetheless, Baldwin garnered more votes than any other candidate besides Mayor Nancy McFarlane and held a “Mayor of Drunktown” T-shirt at her election celebration.

Baldwin, for her part, said she’s most proud of her work recruiting Citrix to downtown Raleigh, helping the Oak City Outreach Center, supporting new transit opportunities and advocating for more affordable housing.

Garrett Perdue, an attorney involved with the Citrix move, said Baldwin was “critical” in bringing the tech giant to Raleigh in 2012 and then aiding its expansion last December. Citrix now employs about 800 people in downtown Raleigh.

“She was the first public official in the local community to conceptualize and envision what Citrix actually became,” Perdue said. “She’s been the leading voice for economic development and innovation in Raleigh for a long time.”

Baldwin supported the Wake Transit Plan, which over the next decade will bring more buses to Raleigh and create a rail connection between the city and other local towns. The public will be able to access the train at Union Station, the transit hub Raleigh’s building in the downtown warehouse district.

In April 2016, Baldwin and Corey Branch were the first council members to call for the city to raise the property tax rate by 1 cent and dedicate the additional revenue to creating new affordable housing. The council adopted that idea last summer.

Baldwin said she hopes the council continues to take risks to make Raleigh “an incredible” place to live.

“Let’s make it even better,” she said in a statement. “I encourage our elected leaders to be bold in their leadership, embrace innovation and new ideas, and to think big about our future.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht