Opinion

A new, peaceful start for Raleigh?

Raleigh’s City Council elections produced surprising results. Three incumbents trailed their challengers and Charles Francis’ bid for mayor came up short on his second try. But the bigger surprise came afterward: Francis declined to seek a runoff and two incumbents who could have sought a second vote also bowed out.

A crowded election — six candidates for mayor and 21 candidates for the other seven council seats — came to a peaceful end. The competition dissolved, hard feelings were put aside and suddenly the city has a new mayor-elect and much different council on the way.

Francis served the city by conceding. His demand for a runoff against Mayor Nancy McFarlane in 2017 divided the city unnecessarily. This time he accepted the voters’ verdict and helped the city get behind Mayor-elect Mary-Ann Baldwin.

“Charles called me and he was very gracious,” Baldwin said. “I think everybody ran a clean campaign and there wasn’t the rancor of (2017). Not having a runoff contributed to that.”

The same can be said for the two incumbent council members who were in a position to call for a runoff after their leading opponent failed to get 50 percent of the vote. Kay Crowder and Russ Stephenson spared the city a low-turnout runoff election. A runoff would have either frustrated the vote for change by narrowly keeping them on the council, or would have undercut the momentum that put their successors on top in the Oct. 8 election.

Council member David Cox survived the push for change, a push largely triggered by a split in the council he helped create. Baldwin said she reached out to Cox.

“I called him and talked about what he wants to accomplish,” she said. “Our intention is for everyone to work together.”

Whether or not Cox cooperates, Baldwin now has a council that will work with energy, purpose and imagination. Her plan is to focus first on smaller, but nagging issues the current council couldn’t resolve. She wants to get an agreement on allowing granny flats, or accessory dwelling units in backyards; broaden homeowners’ ability to use part of their homes for short-term rentals and finally set rules for electric scooters.

As for the big issues, Baldwin said she heard the voters’ top request: protect affordable housing and provide more of it.

“We heard about the fear of being pushed out, the fear of gentrification,” she said.

Allowing backyard dwellings would be one easy step toward creating more affordable places to live. Allowing Airbnb rentals would help homeowners keep their homes. But Baldwin also wants to make wider use of city tax breaks and loan programs that can help lower-income homeowners stay where they are.

As for big ideas, Baldwin pointed to shaping the new Dix Park and finding ways to build more parks around the city.

And, in what may be her first major challenge, she wants to push ahead with plans for a soccer stadium as part of a broader redevelopment of an industrial section of south Raleigh that’s being called Downtown South.

“Downtown South could be a tremendous catalyst,” she said. “It could be one of one of the biggest redevelopment projects in the city’s history.”

Political conflict and troubles lie ahead for Baldwin. but in the interim before she and the new council are sworn in on Dec. 2 she sees a council that is younger, full of ideas and ready to work together.

Of the new council members, she said, “I don’t see any hidden agendas. It’s all very open,” she said.

And, for now, all very peaceful.

Barnett: 919-829-4512. nbarnett@ newsobserver.com
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