Runoff Races Could Be Key to Future Balance on Raleigh City Council

A pro-neighborhood shift could be ahead for Raleigh City Council, with newcomer Stefanie Mendell outpolling  long-time member Bonner Gaylord, who could ask for a runoff. Another newbie, Nicole Stewart, could vie for an  at-large seat in a runoff with lawyer Stacy Miller.

Raleigh City Council veteran Russ Stephenson won a first-place finish among at-large candidates Tuesday, with twenty-eight percent of the vote.  Stewart got the next highest number of votes for the seat made available with the departure of Mary-Ann Baldwin. Because Stewart didn’t receive twenty-five percent, Miller has the option of asking for a runoff. Calls to the campaign weren’t immediately returned.

District E incumbent Bonner Gaylord almost lost his seat in the North Hills district, to challenger Mendell, who said she would bring a better balance between strong neighborhoods and booming development. His campaign didn’t immediately return a call.

The at-large race has been closely watched since 10-year council member Baldwin decided not to run again for her seat. That left the other at-large member, Stephenson, facing six opponents. Stephenson successfully campaigned on his long track record of supporting neighborhood issues and responsible development.

Two of his opponents, attorney Stacy Miller and environmental executive Nicole Stewart, got an endorsement of sorts from Baldwin as she left the race — Baldwin said Miller and Stewart could bring youthful leadership to the panel.

Miller was the best financed candidate in the at-large race, bringing in $180,292.09 in individual contributions and $4,250 in political action committee dollars. Miller had a brief fill-in stint on Council in 1997, and cited his experience as a trial lawyer and in various non-profits as evidence of his suitability. He won roughly 16 percent of the vote with all precincts counted.

Miller could not be reached about whether he intended to ask for a runoff.

Stewart, who raised $91,043.05, positioned herself as an environmentally conscious, neighborhood-supportive candidate.

“The political climate at the state and national level is increasingly leaving cities without the resources (financial and regulatory) to support our communities,” Stewart told the Indy. “We must counter that by adjusting funding priorities to protect vulnerable programs and communities, and use our voices to advocate for the city’s needs and protect our people.”

If, as seems likely, other incumbents are returned to the board, a very general accounting would put Stewart, and Mendell alongside a group including David Cox, Corey Branch, Kay Crowder, and Stephenson. Again, in a general sense, these members would be inclined to view some development with skepticism. And the runoffs add another layer of uncertainty.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane, should she prevail in an a possible runoff, would have to recalculate odds in some issues. Should Charles Francis become mayor, a scramble for new alliances would likely occur.

Zainab Baloch, a Muslim who reflects Raleigh’s increasingly diverse population, won attention with energetic campaigning, including appearances with Democratic mayoral candidate Charles Francis. She got unwanted coverage when one of her campaign signs was disfigured with racist language and a swastika, in an act that drew criticism from across the political spectrum. She was drawing about eleven percent of the vote in early returns.

In three other districts, incumbents prevailed.

In district A, incumbent Dickie Thompson had little trouble retaining the seat he won in a hard fight in 2015, earning about sixty-seven percent of the vote. Opponent Alex Moore ran a low-profile campaign focused on keeping government spending down, but voters evidently found that Thompson had done well during his first term on council.

Another first-term member District C member Corey Branch, held off a challenge from three opponents who wanted the Southeast Raleigh seat Branch earned in 2015 by edging out veteran office holder Eugene Weeks. Branch campaigned energetically and made persistent use of social media including Instagram.

Challenger Crash Gregg notably made last-minute use of his own publication, the Downtowner, to publicize his campaign, but to little avail.

Branch led the field with about eighty-seven percent of the vote.

District D member and mayor pro tem Kay Crowder had perhaps the most low-key opponent in the elusive Bobby Junior Plott, who had no web site and raised little money. Crowder’s back, no contest, with eighty-nine percent of the vote based on all precincts.

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