Wake County

Meet the City Council candidates who want to represent Southeast Raleigh

Crews pave the roadway at the corner of South State and Bragg streets in Southeast Raleigh in July 2015.
Crews pave the roadway at the corner of South State and Bragg streets in Southeast Raleigh in July 2015. newsobserver.com

As Raleigh has grown over the years, bringing good-paying jobs to a revitalized downtown, some residents in the southeastern part of the city have felt left behind.

Southeast Raleigh, home to much of the city’s African-American population, continues to wrestle with blight, poverty and limited economic prospects. Meanwhile, some longtime residents are being forced out as developers build or renovate homes for newcomers who want to live close to downtown.

On Oct. 10, voters will cast ballots for mayor and seven City Council members. Five candidates, including incumbent Corey Branch, are running to represent District C, which spans Southeast and East Raleigh. They say they want to help the district’s residents and reassure them the city hasn’t forgotten about them.

“It’s a food desert,” said lifelong District C resident Rick Clark, who on a recent weekend held a grocery giveaway with the Chavis Circle of Friends at John Chavis Memorial Park. “People don’t have a place to live, nor do they have anything to eat. The city needs to do more about it, but we’re trying to do all we can. People’s ambitions are high, but their stomachs are empty.”

Municipal elections in Raleigh are nonpartisan, but party affiliation is often a factor and most people in District C are Democrats. No Republicans are vying for the seat this year.

All four of Branch’s challengers are white. District C has been represented by an African-American council member for more than 30 years.

The candidates are:

James Bledsoe

James Bledsoe

Bio: Bledsoe is a 31-year-old sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves who works as an information technologist for the state’s department of public safety. He moved to Raleigh from Tampa, Fla., in 2013, and is vice chair of the North Carolina chapter of the Veterans Party of America.

Issues: Bledsoe wants to improve relations between first responders and the city in the wake of recent controversies surrounding their pay and benefits. He also wants to facilitate improved relations between police and residents by creating more opportunities for both groups to interact in friendly contexts. Additionally, Bledsoe wants the city to deregulate its approach to food trucks.

Endorsements/affiliations: Bledsoe is a member of the Veterans Party of America and claims to be the party’s first candidate for office in North Carolina.

Fundraising: Bledsoe pledged in a filing with the Wake County Board of Elections that his campaign receipts and expenditures would be less than $1,000, so he is not obligated to file detailed finance reports.

His own words: “I think all the candidates see (District C) as a place that has the possibility of growth, but that it’s a place that’s been left behind. That’s something we all agree on: District C has so much potential that hasn’t been utilized.”

Corey Branch

Corey Branch

Bio: First elected to the Raleigh City Council in 2015, Branch is a 39-year-old associate director at AT&T and a graduate of North Carolina A&T University. He grew up in Southeast Raleigh and attended Enloe High School. He serves on the board of WakeUp Wake County, a smart-growth advocacy group that supported the Wake County Transit Plan.

Issues: Branch says he is committed to dealing with issues of gentrification and economic opportunity, but he wants to emphasize the need to expand public transit that many low-income residents depend on.

Endorsements/affiliations: Branch is a registered Democrat. He has received the endorsement of the Wake County Democratic Party and EqualityNC.

Fundraising: Through Sept. 5, Branch had raised $11,200 this election cycle.

His own words: “People talk about how poor Southeast Raleigh is. Every district has poor pockets. We just have some that might be a little bit larger than others. But we have a lot of doctors, a lot of lawyers, people who have prosperous careers. You can be successful coming out of District C.”

Olen Watson

Olen Watson

Bio: Watson, 46, is a graduate of Enloe High School. He holds a degree in biblical studies from Campbell University and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He worked as a special education teacher at Middle Creek High School before entering the construction industry.

Issues: Watson wants the city to reduce zoning requirements, giving builders more flexibility in how they construct homes to allow for more cost-efficient use of land. His platform also outlines his plans for reducing racial profiling by police and welcoming companies like Airbnb.

Endorsements/affiliations: Watson is a registered Libertarian.

Fundraising: Watson’s campaign had raised $1,760 through the beginning of September.

His own words: “I have heard over and again dissatisfaction with (Branch’s) passivity, his rubber-stamping what the mayor has done. We need someone who fights a lot harder, and I’m a fighter.”

Crash Gregg

Crash Gregg

Bio: Gregg, 52, moved to Raleigh in 1983 to attend N.C. State University, where he studied industrial engineering. Since 2005, he has been the publisher of the Triangle Downtowner magazine, which he says aims to uplift the city with positive stories about businesses, people and charities.

Issues: Gregg says District C’s problems could benefit from an “entrepreneurial approach” to city government, which he says involves making use of personal networks and nontraditional resources to supplement the city’s toolkit. He suggests soliciting volunteers from local real estate organizations to help homeowners negotiate with developers who want to buy their properties for redevelopment.

Endorsements/affiliations: Gregg is an unaffiliated voter.

Fundraising: Gregg has not claimed any donations or campaign expenditures.

His own words: “I don’t want to say anything bad (about my opponents). If someone’s doing a bad job, you’ll hear about it. We don’t have to be the ones to bring it up. I just know what I can bring to the table.”

Jeff Stewart

Stewart could not be reached to provide a photo.

Bio: Stewart, 51, moved to Raleigh as a child and graduated from Broughton High School. He attended N.C. State University but did not graduate, instead entering the service industry, which ultimately led to his involvement with Crema, a downtown coffee shop where he is general manager. Stewart ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1996 against Tom Fetzer.

Issues: Stewart wants to work to keep rents on downtown storefronts reasonable, which he says would help small businesses and retail stores. He also wants the city to devote more land downtown to affordable housing.

Endorsements/affiliations: Stewart is a registered Democrat.

Fundraising: Stewart pledged in a filing with the Wake County Board of Elections that his receipts and expenditures would remain below the $1,000 reporting threshold.

His own words: “All these condos that have been built up downtown, some look good and some are eyesores. I would love for people to live downtown. But a lot of the people who can afford those places already own homes outside the beltline. The majority of people who want to live downtown are people who work downtown in the service industry, but they can’t afford to.”

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan