Opinion

For Mayor: Mary-Ann Baldwin

Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin talks during the Raleigh City Council regular session in the Council Chamber in the municipal building in Raleigh in 2016.
Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin talks during the Raleigh City Council regular session in the Council Chamber in the municipal building in Raleigh in 2016. ehyman@newsobserver.com

For 18 years – 10 years with Mayor Charles Meeker and eight with Mayor Nancy McFarlane – Raleigh has been led by practical, progressive mayors who successfully channeled an unbroken run of growth. The population grew, downtown boomed and Raleigh stood perennially atop lists of best places to live.

The accomplishments of that era are clear: the Raleigh Convention Center, Union Station, Dix Park, a renovated Moore Square, expanded greenways and a rising skyline.

Now Raleigh is entering a time when the benefits of growth are being dimmed by the costs. The lack of affordable housing is becoming severe. Traffic is getting worse. Neighborhoods are being altered by infill and rising home prices. Higher taxes are making it hard for longtime residents to stay in their homes. And the City Council is riven along pro-growth and slow-grow lines.

Leading amid these changes will require a competent and innovative mayor. The job will not be only about managing growth. It will be about managing dissent and conflict. It will require a strong hand and an open mind.

Six candidates are seeking the job in the Oct. 8 election and early voting is underway. The top three – Charles Francis, Caroline Sullivan and Mary-Ann Baldwin – offer strong qualities. Francis would bring energy and ambition. Sullivan would bring compassion and a commitment to bridging differences. Baldwin would bring 10 years of City Council experience and a broad knowledge of city government and the city’s people.

We recommend Mary-Ann Baldwin. Her talents, background and leadership style best fit a city that must balance where it is going with the needs of those being left behind.

Baldwin, 62, is a vice president for marketing at Holt Brothers Inc., construction company founded by former N.C. State and NFL football players Torry and Terrence Holt. Since she decided against running for a sixth term for her at-large seat in 2017, Baldwin has remained active in public life. She put her plans to run for mayor on hold until McFarlane was ready to leave office. Now she, more than any candidate, is ready to assume that role.

“All through my life I just wanted to make a difference,” said Baldwin, a 30-year resident of Raleigh.

In the heat of a campaign, competence and experience are often overshadowed by bold claims and promises. But competence and experience are crucial to being Raleigh’s mayor in a council-manager form of government. The manager runs the city; the council oversees it. The mayor, who is only one vote among eight council members, succeeds by understanding how the city works, showing how things can be done and knowing the strengths and the limits of the office.

As a council member, Baldwin was innovative and effective. She led the effort to bring the Citrix Sytems’ North Carolina offices to the Warehouse District, represented the council on regional transportation issues, pushed for a 1-cent tax to support affordable housing and helped expand services for the homeless.

Francis, 56, a Raleigh attorney, sets an impressive agenda for the city, especially on providing affordable housing and keeping seniors in their homes. “What I want to be known for,” he told the Editorial Board, “is that more people became able to afford a home.”

Sullivan, 53, a former Wake County commissioner, is running on her history of community service and her ability to bring people together. She has served on the boards of 16 non-profits. “I’ve done more for people left behind than anyone running,” she told the Editorial Board.

Other candidates include Zainab Baloch, 28, who argues that the City Council is too beholden to developers; George Knott, 42, a professional musician with a whimsical agenda of banning trolley pubs and leaf blowers, but who has sound ideas about how growth must serve residents, and Justin Sutton, 30, a state procurement attorney.

Baldwin is a confident leader who will stand up to council members who would undermine her or the council as a whole. But she is also a politician with a heart. On hearing residents describe hardships when she was on the council, she would sometimes get teary. She said council members should see the human element in the issues they address. She asked, “If you can’t feel compassion when people are suffering, then who are you?”

Raleigh voters know who Mary-Ann Baldwin is. Now we hope the majority of them will agree on who she should be – Raleigh’s next mayor.

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