A Young Crop of Candidates is Popping Up in Raleigh City Council Elections

“Raleigh politics could use a reset,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said last week.

In context, she was lamenting the “social disease” of “mean politics” that had “exploded” during her time in public life, which led her not to seek a fifth term. But her words could be read another way, too: The city’s median age is thirty-two, but McFarlane is sixty-two. Five of her seven colleagues on the city council are over sixty, as well.

A diverse crop of young city council candidates hopes to change that dynamic this fall. They argue that the city is being governed on behalf of a wealthy, aging elite and that the council is shutting the door on younger, less-affluent residents.

They also believe that the council’s development-skeptical majority—Russ Stephenson, David Cox, Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder, and Dickie Thompson—is more interested in protecting their fiefdoms than representing the city as a whole, and say they’ve failed to craft a long-term vision for the future.

“I think that they are not making choices that are good for all residents, and that is because they are not representative of all residents,” says Zainab Baloch, twenty-seven, who is running for one of two at-large council spots currently held by Stephenson and Nicole Stewart. “The decisions they are making are impacting our generation and generations after us, but we’re not represented at all in those decisions.”

“What we’re seeing a lot of right now is just some voices getting through, and those voices are blocking progress for all,” says Saige Martin, a twenty-eight-year-old who announced a campaign Monday against Crowder for the District D seat. “It’s quite easy to say no to something. It’s much harder to say what you believe. It is much harder to put forward a positive vision for the city.”

Other challengers include Patrick Buffkin, a thirty-five-year-old lawyer hoping to unseat District A’s Dickie Thompson (who did not respond to the INDY’s inquiry about whether he’s seeking re-election), and Brian Fitzsimmons, a thirty-six-year-old operations analyst and former chairman of the Wake County Democratic Party challenging David Cox in District B. Joining Baloch in the at-large races, thirty-two-year-old James Bledsoe hopes to give a voice to veterans, twenty-nine-year-old Robbie Rikard wants to invest more in transportation and affordable housing, and thirty-three-year-old divorce attorney Jonathan Melton says the city should do a better job embracing innovation and alternative transportation.

All of these candidates are younger than Stewart, currently the council’s youngest member at thirty-seven.
— Leigh Tauss - Indy Week
Brent Woodcox