More people are running for seats on the Raleigh City Council this year than in nearly two decades.
Twenty-four candidates filed to run for eight seats on the council, which controls everything from the property tax rate to development rules. It’s the biggest field of candidates since 1999, when 30 people ran and two incumbents lost their seats.
City elections tend to take a different tone from those at the county or state level. Although local political parties offer endorsements, the Raleigh City Council is a nonpartisan group and candidates are often judged by their community involvement or their views on growth rather than party affiliation.
So it can be tough for a casual voter to interpret the council’s political landscape, and where candidates stand on issues.
Election Day is Oct. 10. Here are some things to know as campaign season begins.
Who represents me?
The City Council includes the mayor, five members from geographically specific areas and two at-large members who can live anywhere in Raleigh.
All the seats are up for grabs this fall, and at-large councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin is the only incumbent who’s not seeking re-election.
Voters can cast ballots for four candidates: mayor, two at-large seats and the seat that represents the district where they live.
To find out which district you live in, go to the Raleigh City Council webpage and type in your address.
The last election, in 2015, featured debates about noisy downtown nightlife. A campaign suggested some candidates wanted to turn downtown into “DrunkTown.”
Two young candidates – Matt Tomasulo, an artist and city planning expert, and Ashton Mae Smith, an engagement manager at Citrix – were considered strong. But both lost, signaling that voters weren’t willing to hand over the reins from some longtime leaders.
This year, the city’s drinking and dining rules aren’t an issue. There are several candidates under the age of 40, but it’s unclear whether they’ll garner as much momentum as Tomasulo and Smith did.
Growth and traffic
A recent survey showed that traffic is a top concern of most Raleigh residents.
The council is putting a bond referendum on the October ballot to pay for about $206.7 million in road improvements. If voters approve the measure, the city’s property tax rate will increase a total of 1.3 cents per $100 in value over several years.
As for growth, the council has been more leery of development since 2015. That year, David Cox and Dickie Thompson replaced the council’s only two Republicans, and Corey Branch beat out the District C incumbent, Eugene Weeks, who was seen as a pro-business Democrat.
Cox, Kay Crowder and Russ Stephenson are typically the harshest critics of development.
Council candidates in recent years have tried to position themselves as being supportive of boosting the economy but critical of growth that might tarnish neighborhood character.
Candidates will likely talk a lot about affordable housing for the next few months.
It’s gotten more expensive to rent an apartment or buy a home in Raleigh, and some say city leaders need to help provide more affordable options.
The City Council last year raised the property tax rate by 1 cent to generate more funding for affordable housing units, but council members say more should be done.
The sale of two low-income apartment complexes downtown has spurred concerns about people being pushed out for new development.
The roughly 130 senior citizens who live at Sir Walter Apartments on Fayetteville Street will be forced to move, as will the 60 residents of Wintershaven Apartments on East Hargett Street. New buyers plan to renovate the properties.
One issue that’s divided the council for years: short-term residential rentals.
Such rentals, commonly found online through Airbnb and VRBO, are prohibited in Raleigh. But city leaders in 2015 suspended the ban until they come up with regulations.
Proposed rules went before the council several times in the last two years, including last month when a task force presented suggestions. Mayor Nancy McFarlane said her committee will soon review the proposal.
Brent Woodcox, a Raleigh resident who co-chaired the task force, recently formed a political action group, Share Raleigh, to lobby for “rental freedom.”
“Over the past two years, thousands of citizens in our city have expressed their support for legalizing short term rentals in Raleigh, but unfortunately thus far their calls have gone unheeded,” Woodcox said in a statement. “Share Raleigh will give voters the opportunity to know which city council candidates stand with them in support of short term rental freedom.”
Mayor faces new challenge
McFarlane will face opposition from her political right and left for the first time since she became mayor in 2011.
An unaffiliated voter, McFarlane has faced only Republicans each year and has won handily. This year, she’s facing Republican Paul Fitts, a mortgage lender, and Democrat Charles Francis, an attorney.
McFarlane, a three-term incumbent who co-founded a pharmaceutical services company, likely has more name recognition and money than her competitors. But Fitts and Francis could level the playing field by peeling off some of her more partisan supporters.