Elections

The election’s over, but 2 Raleigh council members are still criticizing the winners

A screenshot of Raleigh City Council member Stef Mendell’s Facebook.
A screenshot of Raleigh City Council member Stef Mendell’s Facebook.

Two city leaders unhappy with last week’s Raleigh election results are criticizing the winners.

First, council member David Cox called the election of a “pro-development” council “devastating.”

Then Stef Mendell posted a letter to The News & Observer on Facebook criticizing incoming council member Saige Martin.

Cox won his re-election bid but most of his allies, including Mendell, will not return to their seats in December. Mendell was defeated by David Knight while Martin defeated council member Kay Crowder.

In the letter posted Wednesday, Mendell asked why The N&O didn’t explain its reasoning for not endorsing Martin. The N&O recommended Brittany Bryan for the District D seat. The decision was made by the newspaper’s editorial board, which is separate from its newsroom.

“Could that be because you had questions about (Martin’s) ability to tell the truth about issues such as his voting record and his background?,” she said. “Why didn’t you investigate those issues and/or explain your concerns about him when you explained your endorsements?”

In her letter, Mendell writes that Martin is listed as “White — Not Hispanic or Not Latino” in his voter registration and “refused to respond to inquiries about his identity.”

She also says he didn’t vote in the 2015 and 2017 municipal elections, and questioned his work credentials and childhood experiences.

SAIGE MARTIN CITY COUNCIL- 1 (1).jpg
Incoming Raleigh City Council member Saige Martin Submitted

Martin responds

Martin initially said he didn’t have a comment about Mendell’s statement but then sent a statement saying he wanted to discuss his plans for the new council and “moving our city forward.”

“The results from last week’s election clearly indicate our city is ready for bold leadership, thus I’m uninterested in engaging with someone’s personal and false accusations against me simply because the results were not what they’d hope,” he said in a text message. “We have incredibly important work ahead of us and I’m currently focused on preparing so that I’m ready to lead on day one.”

On Martin’s website, he said his father is from Puerto Rico and his mother grew up in and out of foster care. His voter registration on the N.C. State Board of Elections office does list him as white, not Hispanic or Latino. But he categorized himself as Hispanic and biracial in the original voter registration form he filled out, according to the Wake County Board of Elections.

Before the election, The N&O asked all of the candidates how they would bring diversity to the council.

“I would be the first openly gay, Latino councilperson elected,” Martin wrote. “I also have detailed policy proposals to address equity and equality across the city and in all communities.”

This is the second time in the past week a losing candidate has publicly questioned a Latino candidate in city elections. The Durham County Board of Elections rejected a complaint by a failed candidate in last week’s Durham primary that questioned the city’s first Latina council member’s U.S. citizenship.

Martin responded to the questions about his voting record three weeks ago on a Facebook post.

“I requested absentee ballots for 2015 and 2017 as I would be traveling for work during early voting/election day,” he wrote. “Neither absentee ballot came before my travels, nor after.”

The Wake County Board of Elections doesn’t have a record of either of those requests, Director Gary Sims said.

‘Pro-development council’

In Cox’s post shortly after the election, he called losing Crowder, Mendell and Russ Stephenson on the council and “the elevation of Mary-Ann Baldwin as mayor and the election of a pro-development council devastating.”

He wrote that he anticipates money and staff support for Citizens Advisory Councils will be cut, the sign ordinance “will be gutted to allow large screen advertising downtown,” the quarry near Umstead State Park will move forward and there will be “more development like the Sheetz at Falls of Neuse and Wakefield Pines where the trees are stripped out.”

“As grateful as I am to have been re-elected, I fully realize that I will now be but one person on council and powerless to affect decisions,” he wrote. “I am sorry for being so blunt about this situation. But I am not going to shy away now from communicating with you and being honest about how I see things happening.”

The new city council will be sworn in Dec. 2

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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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