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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Raleigh mayor’s race turns on pace of growth

(This analysis by Colin Campbell originally appeared in the Oct. 27 North Carolina Tribune.)

It’s not getting much attention in a midterm, but the race for Raleigh City Council and mayor is a key contest for business and development this year.

I covered Raleigh city government about a decade ago for The News & Observer, and the political dynamics haven’t changed much. It’s not a partisan environment, even when it was possible for a few Republicans to get elected in a liberal city.

There’s a development-friendly faction led by Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, and it currently holds the majority of seats. That faction has always been vocally opposed by a group of people who’d like to see a slower approach to growth. They refer to themselves as “pro-neighborhood;” their opponents call them NIMBYs.

Since I first set foot in City Hall 10 years ago, I’ve watched the balance of power swing back and forth between those two factions. Swing voters in the low-turnout, off-year elections tend to switch their allegiance if they feel the faction in power has overreached.

This year, however, could herald a longer-term change. Baldwin and others managed to convince state legislators to switch Raleigh elections permanently to higher-turnout even years – latching the change onto a bill that tweaked municipal election dates to account for Census delays.

Even Gov. Roy Cooper was skittish about the rushed process, letting the bill become law without his signature because “decisions about local elections like these should involve more open discussion and public input.”

The shift to even years increases voter participation but makes it far harder to get voters’ attention on local government issues. It takes money to break through the noise of more prominent races.

Baldwin has it: She’s raised more than $700,000 and is running TV ads. Her main opponent, Terrance Ruth, has raised just $41,000.

The main political organization for the slower-growth crowd is Livable Raleigh, led in part by Baldwin’s longtime nemesis, former City Councilman Russ Stephenson. Campaign finance records show it’s spent about $10,000 so far this fall on digital and newspaper ads as well as handouts promoting its preferred slate of council candidates.

With such a funding disadvantage, it’s possible that none of Livable Raleigh’s endorsed candidates will win. And if that happens, it’s a safe bet that future even-year elections will continue to diminish the power of the slower-growth faction. That doesn’t necessarily mean developers can build whatever they want – the current council majority applies the brakes at times for controversial projects – but new developments will face a smoother path than in years past.

You can read more about the Raleigh election battles, with affordable housing issues at the forefront, in this story from The Assembly.

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