Raleigh could see 4 new City Council members, but November runoffs likely

Raleigh voters elected three incumbents and two newcomers to the City Council on Tuesday, but two seats remained undecided.

Council members David Cox, Nicole Stewart and Corey Branch all won their races with more than 50% plus one of the votes cast, successfully avoiding a November run-off election. And newcomers Patrick Buffkin and David Knight will also be joining the board.

That may not be the case for incumbents Russ Stephenson and Kay Crowder.

The longtime council members trailed Jonathan Melton and Saige Martin, respectively, after all of Tuesday’s votes were counted, though neither of the challengers crossed the 50% threshold and Stephenson, at least, suggested that he would ask for a runoff.

The eight-person Raleigh City Council was guaranteed to change after Mayor Nancy McFarlane and District A representative Dickie Thompson chose not to seek re-election.

The power on the council shifted two years ago. The majority call themselves proponents of smart-growth, while critics say they are slow- or anti-growth. Only one in the current majority — Cox — won outright Tuesday.

In the race for mayor, former council member Mary-Ann Baldwin finished ahead of Charles Francis in a six-person field but didn’t clear the runoff threshold. Francis is expected to ask for one Wednesday.

The runoff election is Nov. 5.

Raleigh voter turnout in Tuesday’s election was 13%, according to the state Board of Elections website.

At-Large (All of Raleigh)

Six candidates — incumbents Stephenson and Stewart, and challengers James Bledsoe, Melton, Portia Rochell and Carlie Allison Spencer — were seeking two spots to represent the entire city.

Stewart clinched one of the seats with 34% of the vote.

“I am very excited,” she said. “And I am very grateful for the very clear support that we received. We had a very positive message looking at where our city is headed.”

Candidates needed 25% of the vote to win outright. If just one candidate hit 25%, the third-place candidate could call for a run-off with the second-place candidate.

Melton, who finished second, wasn’t able to clear the 25% threshold. He had 23% of the votes compared to Stephenson’s 19%.

“I am really proud of the campaign I have run,” Melton said. “It is clear that voters cast their ballot in favor of change and they want a Raleigh that comes from a place of yes. And one that plans for equitable growth.”

He said he hadn’t heard from Stephenson.

In a text message to The News & Observer, Stephenson said “The campaign begins again tomorrow.”

But he did not respond to a follow-up question about whether that means he would seek a run-off.

District A (North Raleigh)

Three candidates — Joshua Bradley, Patrick Buffkin and Sam Hershey — were running to take Thompson’s place.

Buffkin, an attorney with the N.C. Utilities Commission, won with 52% of the votes. A text message and phone call to Buffkin were not returned Tuesday night.

District B (Northeast Raleigh)

This was one of the most-watched races of the election.

Cox won 54% of the votes, defeating challenger Brian Fitzsimmons, who finished with 45%.

Cox rose to popularity after helping organize a campaign against a Publix in North Raleigh and is an outspoken critic of development he views as harming neighborhoods. He’s been one of four incumbents who have often clashed with McFarlane.

This race was also dominated by negative campaign mailers and advertisements by outside groups, including one that compared Cox to President Donald Trump.

Cox did not respond to a text message and phone call for comment. But in a Facebook post he thanked supporters and said he was pleased to have won despite the constant attacks.

“I am grateful for another opportunity to serve and represent the residents of District B and the city of Raleigh,” he said. “Whether this new council will do the same remains to be seen.”

In a tweet, Fitzsimmons said he couldn’t be more proud of his campaign.

“All of this came from a desire to see Raleigh be better, and despite the outcome, I truly feel like we saw that,” he said. “We saw people that hadn’t normally been concerned with (local) races get involved.”

District C (Southeast Raleigh)

Branch won with 63% of the votes, followed by Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi, Wanda Hunter and Ricky Scott.

“The election is over, it is now time for the district to come together and work on the challenges we face,” Branch said.

Those challenges, he said, include affordable and low-income housing, more opportunities for young people in Southeast Raleigh outside of athletics and economic mobility.

District D (Southwest Raleigh)

Three candidates, Brittany Bryan, Saige Martin and April Parker, were challenging incumbent Crowder for the Southwest Raleigh seat.

Crowder was appointed to the council in 2014 after her husband and then-council member Thomas Crowder died. She has won re-election twice since then.

Martin won the most votes Tuesday, but at 47% not enough to avoid a possible runoff with Crowder, who finished with 33%.

“We came out far ahead of where I thought we would and I am thankful,” Martin said. “And I am not taking it for grated. I hope the people are ready for another month (of campaigning).”

Crowder didn’t respond to a text message and a phone call from The N&O Tuesday night asking if she would seek a runoff.

District E (Northwest Raleigh)

Incumbent Stef Mendell narrowly defeated former Council member Bonner Gaylord in 2017, helping prompt a shift on council. But she wasn’t able to hold on to her seat for a second term.

Environmental consultant David Knight defeated her, winning 69% of the votes to her 30%.

“Folks in District E want a change, and that is what they will get,” he said. “I look forward to working with all the folks in District E and the city to keep Raleigh moving in a good direction.”

Mendell couldn’t be reached Tuesday night because she was observing the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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