|Raleigh mayoral candidates bear down as primary nears|
|Published Wednesday, September 11, 2019|
RALEIGH – Passage Home, a pillar of anti-poverty efforts in Wake County, recently hosted five of the six candidates vying to become Raleigh’s next mayor.
Participants quickly fired off questions centered on the area’s most pressing issues: affordable housing and a civilian police oversight committee with subpoena powers. The candidates at the table: Mary-Ann Baldwin, Charles Francis, Zainab Baloch, Justin Sutton, and George Knott. About 50 people were on hand to listen.
Mirroring the on-going debate over citizens’ call for a police oversight committee of civilians who have subpoena power, the candidates differed on the issue. Even so, they each have ideas about how to reform the criminal justice system.
Both Baldwin and Francis reject the idea of a civilian review board with subpoena powers, but both agree a review board is an important step. Francis believes hiring more diverse officers and improving training with focus on officer discretion are also important steps to criminal justice system reform. Baldwin echoed the idea of scrutinizing officer discretion, pointing to an increased number of people jailed on marijuana charges, causing a “spiraling effect.”
Baloch, Sutton and Knott said they support a review board. Baloch specifically endorsed a board with subpoena powers. “People in Raleigh have a right to be safe,” she said. “Black and brown people are being (targeted) by the police and ICE.”
To answer other questions, the candidates said:
Housing affordability is the No. 1 priority for Baldwin, who served a decade on the Raleigh City Council, and championed programs such as Innovate Raleigh to harness innovation and entrepreneurship, and, more recently, Oak City Cares to address the city’s growing homeless population. With a campaign that includes a 10-point plan on housing, Baldwin said she’ll also focus on building density, transit, workforce training, and diversifying the entrepreneurial community.
Baldwin noted the need to change current policies that “prevent housing affordability” by limiting the types of housing that can be built – or rebuilt – and where. She also suggests the best way to prevent developers from taking advantage of homeowners is to “go door-to-door,” sharing information and resources to help homeowners understand and navigate their options. “We don’t want people getting hoodwinked,” she said. “We need to get personal with this.”
Describing herself as an extrovert, Baldwin said she differs from current leadership because, “I’m a hard-charging person who doesn’t take a lot of gruff. I’m don’t mind conflict.”
Francis, a Raleigh attorney and a founder of North State Bank, said he will push to create affordable housing and ways to help people build wealth. Francis said he will increase job opportunities for youth with parks and recreation, including Dix Park, and introduce the idea of contracting with small businesses. Wealth, he said, stagnates under the current housing crisis. A better formula is increased access to housing, plus greater likelihoods of homeownership equal to greater wealth and opportunity for family legacies in an area already packed with history. Francis, who also said he advocates freezing property taxes for senior citizens, said he will tap into legal aid and private attorneys to provide pro-bono services to help homeowners avoid foreclosures and predatory lending tactics prevalent in lower income areas targeted for gentrification.
Saying the city is without effective leadership and needs to move “at the speed of business,” Francis said he would bring visionary leadership to the city council.
Baloch didn’t grow up in Southeast Raleigh, but she lives in the area now. She’s also dedicated her career to nonprofit service, advocating for the marginalized, including work with the Poor People’s Campaign. Applauding Passage Home for its holistic work around poverty, Baloch highlighted South Park’s role in building “a lot of the foundation of the city. We have to ask ourselves why a place that has been so ignored...is now valuable,” she said.
Saying her No. 1 priority is to “bring the community to the table” in ways both “mindful and direct,” Baloch said residents need to be sure the candidate they support is not accepting funding from developers or corporate interests. “That’s why this election is so important,” she said. “You need leadership.” Baloch said the city lacks her brand of leadership, one that is “forward-thinking and innovative.”
Sutton, a Raleigh native and North Carolina State alum whose private law practice is on New Bern Avenue, said he knows firsthand how a commitment to providing affordable housing can change lives. In 2017, he bought three homes and started a company “with the sole purpose of providing affordable housing,” providing renters an opportunity to work towards home ownership.
Sutton said he will focus on economic growth, strengthening local dollars and carving a path for minorities, women and veterans in the small business community. Pointing to the responsible appropriation of taxpayer dollars as his No. 1 priority, Sutton said he wants to see the city council better represent its populace and be good stewards of residents’ trust – from putting an end to predatory and coercive buying and lending practices to finding ways to increase homeowner education and funding legal aid to times of need.
Knott said his No. 1 priority as mayor would be to “stop spending taxpayer money to incentivize businesses to come here.” Otherwise Raleigh will get what it’s gotten: Companies who import a workforce that, in turn, demands downtown living, and, in answer, developers who develop downtown dwellings “the nouveau-riche are the only ones who can afford to live there,” he said. Knott, a bass player who said his only political experience comes from reading the newspaper, said displacement leads to another growing problem the city isn’t addressing the right way: homelessness. “The answer to homelessness is not more shelter beds,” he said. “It’s getting people in stable housing so they can get their lives back on track.”
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