The November 8th election for Raleigh City Council was a dramatic and historic win for diversity, citizens, and democracy. However, Mary-Ann Baldwin and Ned Barnett in Barnett’s N&O editorial, rather than assign responsibility for the outcome on Baldwin’s and Council’s failed policies, blame others from activist groups to the Democratic Party. Let’s take a look at how Baldwin and the others really lost control of the Council.
Four members of Council were replaced and we now have a Council with the most members under 40, the most women, and the most LGBTQ members. The four new members are pro-citizen and pro-democracy and reject the cancellation of Citizens Advisory Councils, and want to prioritize affordable housing, equity, the environment, and public safety.
Notably, two Council members were rebuffed and rejected.
Patrick Buffkin attempted to use his position on Council to step into higher political office. Earlier this year he ran for the state legislature. But after two years of bad decisions and pompous pronouncements from the Council table, the voters of his district soundly rejected him 67% to 33% in the primary. The very same voters of his City Council district had had enough. Seeing (but, of course, not admitting to) the handwriting on the wall, Buffkin declined to run for re-election to City Council.
David Knight did choose to run for re-election in Raleigh City Council District E but was defeated by Christina Jones who spent the last three years as Chair of the Raleigh Citizens Advisory Council (RCAC) that refused to be canceled by Knight and others. Right to the end Knight denied the legitimacy of the RCAC saying publicly that “they don’t exist” despite Jones coming before council at nearly every meeting to speak and report on the RCAC and to advocate for citizens’ role in governance.
Furthermore, Knight lashed out against citizens and homeowners with his support of Missing Middle legislation that he and the rest of Council (except for David Cox) passed. This legislation did away with zoning for single family neighborhoods and allows developers to replace single family homes with townhouses and apartments – all without notice to neighbors, public comments, hearings, or a vote by Council. Knight, Baldwin, and Jonathan Melton claimed that Missing Middle replacing single-family homes with denser housing will magically solve housing affordability. Voters, however, recognized this claim as a big lie as homes are razed for dense luxury apartments and townhomes.
As if this wasn’t enough, Knight, throughout his term in office, repeatedly looked for ways to stymie citizens including asking the City Attorney for ways to prohibit free speech by censoring what citizens can say when they come before Council to speak and telling citizens that they have no right to inform Council how they feel about rezoning cases as they did in CAC meetings. And, let’s not forget about public comments being reduced from 3 minutes per person to 1 minute.
In the end Christina Jones had had enough herself, filed to run for Knight’s seat on Council, and defeated him 51% to 49%. Whatever hopes or plans for higher office Knight might have had, we don’t know. But safe to say Knight will find it hard to find supporters for his autocratic philosophies.
In the other races, developer and Baldwin backed candidates lost big time. Mary Black defeated “Cat” Lawson by nearly 8 points. Megan Patton defeated Minu Lee by nearly 11 points. Jane Harrison defeated Jenn Truman by nearly 37%.
Baldwin, and the remaining incumbents who did win, each failed to garner more than 50% of the vote. Baldwin actually nearly lost to largely unknown candidate Terrance Ruth 46.6% to 40.7%. Ten percent went to candidate DaQuanta Copeland. Had runoffs been allowed, Ruth likely would have won the election despite Baldwin raising nearly one million dollars to Ruth’s $40,000.
Corey Branch from District C won with 44.7% of the vote, with the remaining 55.3% evenly split between Frank Fields and Wanda Hunter. This election was a huge fall from grace for Branch who failed to gain the endorsement of the RWCA or the Wake Democratic Party. In 2019 he won the election with 63%. But during the past three years he aligned himself lock-step with Baldwin including supporting policies that gentrify his district and diminish the participation of minority citizens in local government. Perhaps the most egregious decision was his support to redistrict minority voters to dilute their voting power in east Raleigh.
At-Large incumbents also won with less than a majority of the vote. (In Raleigh’s At-Large election where each voter can select two candidates, 25% is considered a majority.) Jonathan Melton won with the smallest vote of any winning candidate. Melton, a vocal supporter for Missing Middle and cancelling CACs and citizen engagement, won with a mere 19% of the vote compared to the 23% he earned in 2019 when he barely won his first election. Stormie Forte won with 23%. The remaining votes were split between 5 other candidates.
(The voting for At-Large candidates remains insane because voters can choose two candidates with the top two winning. Look for another blog that will explain why this approach to voting is crazy and we will explore ways to improve it.)
The election is over and people have spoken. Baldwin and Council have forced unpopular and failed policies on Raleigh. With very few financial resources challengers pushed back and have taken back Council despite incumbents and candidates endorsed by and heavily financed by wealthy developers and realtors.
With this win, let the citizens of Raleigh look forward to better days as well as to more changes in 2024.
— Livable Raleigh Editorial Team