Mary-Ann Baldwin Announces Her Campaign for Mayor

There’s no politician in Raleigh quite like Mary-Ann Baldwin.

She’s loved, or she’s hated. She’s a creative, forward-thinking innovator, or she’s a pawn of developers bent on selling out Raleigh’s quality of life to the highest bidder. She’s a champion of affordable housing, or she’s a would-be destroyer of neighborhoods. She’s outspoken and tenacious, or she’s polarizing and abrasive. There’s no in-between.

No one else in Raleigh politics generates this kind of visceral response. And that’s why this year’s mayoral election is going to be all about the Notorious MAB.

In an exclusive interview with the INDY Friday—embargoed until Wednesday—the sixty-two-year-old former city council member, who stepped down in 2017, announced that she was running for mayor.

Baldwin cast her candidacy in characteristically no-bullshit terms: The council is broken. She wants to fix it.

“Seeing what’s happened in the past year and a half has really been disturbing to me,” she said. “I think we’re moving backward as a city instead of forward. Issues like affordable housing, simple things like the sharing economy—we can’t make decisions, or we’re making bad decisions. I stepped away because I said we needed new leadership, and now I’m stepping back in because I think we need new leadership.”

During her ten years in office, from 2007–17, Baldwin was instrumental in bringing Citrix to the Warehouse District, which helped turn the once-desolate area into a downtown hub that now includes Raleigh Union Station. She co-founded Innovate Raleigh in 2011, a nonprofit that spurs entrepreneurship throughout the Triangle, and championed downtown businesses. She pushed for better transit and more affordable housing—including more housing choices and increased density.

But as a marketing executive for engineering and development companies—including Holt Brothers, where she’s currently vice president—Baldwin was criticized for being too close to developers and accused of prioritizing businesses over neighborhoods. During the battle over a controversial 2015 sidewalk-patio ordinance, she was attacked—via the infamous “DrunkTown” ad—for her support of downtown nightlife. Her feuds with other council members, including Russ Stephenson, rubbed detractors the wrong way, too.

Baldwin grew up in Rhode Island, the daughter of a local gadfly who volunteered for George McGovern’s presidential campaign when she was fifteen. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, she became a cops-and-government reporter for a newspaper outside of New York City before moving to Raleigh three decades ago.

She got into city politics on the heels of a sanitation workers’ strike, when she thought officials needed to communicate better. She’s reentering the fray with the city council as divided as ever, governed by a majority of neighborhood preservationists who, Baldwin would argue, vote more often to protect the Raleigh of yesterday than to prepare for the Raleigh of tomorrow.

Baldwin says she’s done watching from the sidelines.
— Jeffrey C. Billman - Indy Week
Brent Woodcox