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Candidates for Raleigh mayor answer your questions

IMPORTANT NOTE: Raleigh Convergence is no longer publishing, as of April 1, 2022. Read more.

Raleigh candidates for mayor answered questions sent in by Raleigh Convergence readers, the Raleighites Agenda.

You can read their answers by candidate (linked in the list) or keep scrolling for the candidates’ responses organized by question.


(name & campaign site: link to questionnaire answers)

Mary-Ann Baldwin: See her answers here.

Zainab Baloch: See her answers here (posted 9/18)

Charles Francis: Emailed his posted campaign email address on Sept. 11, 15 and 17, did not receive a response.

George Knott: See his answers here.

Caroline Sullivan: See her answers here.

Justin L. Sutton: See his answers here.

QUESTION 1: For at-large and mayoral candidates: What is your vision for the future of the city? (What will Raleigh look like in 10-20 years?) Once in office, what actions will be your priority to achieve that vision?

Mary-Ann Baldwin: My vision is to create a City of “Progress, Innovation and Compassion.” What do I mean by that? We need to move our city forward on urgent issues such as housing affordability and transit, encourage a culture of innovation that rewards new ideas instead of fearing them, and care for those members of our community who are most vulnerable.

First, we need to take urgent action on the issue of housing affordability. Please see “10 Ways the City Can Encourage Housing Affordability” on my website: http://www.maryannforraleigh.com/housing-affordability.

Second, we need a culture change within the Council and our government to encourage innovation and new ideas. I would suggest we start an innovation fund to reward employees who bring forward ideas that create government efficiency and save taxpayer dollars. It’s also important to look at ways to support our start up community – perhaps by being a beta customer or providing them with a front door to government. Most importantly, we need to recognize that what worked 10 or 20 years ago may not work today. We need to be bold and brave.

And finally, we need to look at ways we can stem generational poverty and uplift people in our community. Housing is part of the solution, but so is reliable transportation, access to jobs, workforce training, and educational opportunity. The new Southeast Raleigh YMCA’s promise-built community is the perfect example of innovative ways we can do this. With a YMCA, elementary school and affordable housing on campus, this collaborative effort between the public and private sector is sure to change lives.

Zainab Baloch: Building for the Future Raleigh is in a unique position. We’re the capital city of North Carolina. We’re the second biggest tech hub after Silicon Valley. We’re facing unprecedented growth and there’s a great job market… for some. We’re also one of the worst cities to live in if you’re a poor black kid trying to get out of poverty. Our upward mobility rate is 8%, worse than Oakland, Queens, and DC. Many of our firefighters can’t afford to live in the city. We’re polluting our air and water systems, making climate change worse. Our homelessness rate is skyrocketing. 

What if Raleigh became known for our choices to listen to our people and prioritize moral, ethical, kind decisions for our city? 

We need to reimagine our city and the spaces we live, work, and play in. We will be a city that invests in people and is committed to doing good even when it’s hard. 

We need new moral approaches. Not the same old solutions. Public office is about public service, not power. It’s time for us, all of us, to serve the public. This is our moment. The future of Raleigh is with the next generation. 

As Raleigh mayor, I will build a movement that ignites past, current, and future generations to take a leading role in forming the future of Raleigh. I will engage the voices and talents of Raleigh’s community, to solve old problems with new and innovative solutions. Together, we can create a city of opportunity and hope–a Raleigh that will give every person a chance to pursue mobility, security, and happiness. 

Charles Francis: N/A

George Knott: My vision for the future Raleigh is a Raleigh that is fair, just, and equitable for all of it’s citizens.  Unfortunately the past 20 years Raleigh has been incentivizing growth downtown, that growth displaces lifelong residents forcing them from their homes as their neighborhoods gentrify, housing prices soar and affordable housing is torn down to be replaced by million dollar condos in high rise apartments. 

Raleigh currently has a 56,000 unit deficit of affordable housing and that number is growing. The displaced residents end up in the suburbs or county far from their jobs and far from the social services that downtowns traditionally provided them. They enter a downward spiral of poverty and many end up homeless. 

In 2017 Raleigh had 4,200 homeless; in 2018 we had 5,500, an increase of 1,300, or 4 Raleigh residents per day. We are the ONLY city in North Carolina with an increasing homeless population. As the trend continues we are well over 6,000 homeless people as you read this today. The county only has 300 beds (225 in a shelter for men and they are working on a 75 bed shelter for women) but county beds aren’t the solution to homelessness.  The solution starts with safe and stable housing but there is no safe and stable housing for our working citizens much less our homeless citizens. Raleigh is in the midst of a housing crisis and an homeless crisis that is driven by our city incentivizing huge corporations to move into our city core.

My plan?  First and foremost, stop paying cash and giving tax breaks to million and sometimes billion dollar corporations to move downtown.  In 20 years we are going to look like San Francisco with Nuevo Rich and developers at the top, no middle class and massive poverty. 

Caroline Sullivan: I have never been more optimistic about Raleigh’s future. We will continue to face challenges as we grow, but we have the right ingredients to collaborate and find innovative solutions. We have our great universities, the best community college in the state, innovative companies filled with smart creative people, strong local governments, and tireless non-profits. By working together,  we can build a Raleigh that works for everyone. We can create a vibrant, sustainable city that provides many affordable housing options and transportation and transit systems that can move us around the city and region. We can ensure all communities and all families feel safe, keep up with the critical infrastructure as we grow, and continue to promote the arts, culture, and parks that give us our wonderful quality of life. Raleigh can be a city that provides opportunity for all residents—the opportunity to find a job that gives them purpose and can support them and their families. We must encourage economic development by supporting local small business and entrepreneurs while also recruiting larger companies to locate here. We must grow our talent pipeline locally, not just attract it by expanding youth and adult training programs. But we cannot do this alone, and we cannot do it by tearing each other down—we have to bring everyone to the table to collaborate and get things done for all of Raleigh. I believe that Raleigh’s leaders need to work harder to get along to achieve common objectives on behalf of the people. I will do everything that I can to bring back respect and ensure that the Council conducts the work it is trusted to do. 

Justin L. Sutton: I envision Raleigh as a model of economic success and upward mobility where small businesses drive our local economy and where affordable housing is more than just a dream, but a reality for low to moderate income families. 

As mayor, I will prioritize: 1. Economic growth and small business inclusion throughout all city contracts awarded in efforts to strengthen our local dollar; 2. Housing affordability which continues to displace our residents daily; and 3. Infrastructure management to address growing density concerns, accelerated growth, and the gradual strain placed on our public resources and municipal operations (i.e. utilities, public safety responsiveness, and waste management services).

I will revamp our competitive bidding process to prioritize the purchase of local goods and services. I will also rewrite our solicitations, specifications, and contracting terms to mandate small, minority, and women owned business utilization across all procurements and citywide contracts awarded. I will expand existing housing programs to enhance the marketability of our communities through homeowner rehabilitation services, first time homebuyer assistance funding, credit counseling/consumer protection programs, and proposed amendments to the existing budget to redirect taxpayer dollars to increase funding for rental vouchers/subsidies. I would prioritize funding for the construction and/or purchase of single-family homes and low-density housing units with lease to own options and housing rates below market value. I will also sponsor feasibility studies to address infrastructure needs and asset management programs to maximize city resources and streamline municipal operations.

QUESTION 2: What’s the impact on traffic of the rapid high-rise development in downtown, and what are you doing to avoid the gridlock we’re seeing too often? How would you improve walkability, especially in the urban core?

Mary-Ann Baldwin: Walkable urban communities that offer opportunity to all residents should be our ultimate goal when talking about future development. This means density, especially on transit corridors and future bus rapid transit lines. But it also means a mix of uses so people can walk or bike to a grocery store, restaurants, movie theater or retail. Density along transit lines is a must to alleviate congestion. But encouraging “gentle” density (such as accessory dwelling units, also known as granny flats) and missing middle housing (duplexes, triplexes, quads, cottage courts) also helps to create walkable communities without major impact on infrastructure and at no cost to taxpayers.

Zainab Baloch: Infrastructure that gets us where we need to go, at the time we need to get there, is the backbone of a healthy economy. It powers businesses, connects workers to their jobs, creates opportunities for struggling communities and protects the nation from an increasingly unpredictable environment. As our city grows, we need to be thinking two steps ahead of the problems urban growth can bring. We will reduce the need for “car culture” and prioritize building a public transportation system that is timely, sustainable and accessible for all. 

The Vision: 

  • Coordinating with transportation partners to establish an integrated system combining rideshares, scooters, bikes, busses and trains 
  • Creating and maintaining more bike lanes and greenways 
  • Bringing back electric scooters, with community members included in the conversation, to find a policy that supports both safety and accessibility. 
  • Supporting the proposed light rail plan 
  • Building bus shelters, and improve walkability to bus stops (some stops don’t even have sidewalks!) 
  • Supporting our bus drivers with good working conditions and living wages 
  • Improving accessibility to transportation information with a cleaner, integrated online presence and social media sharing

Charles Francis: N/A

George Knott: Raleigh’s downtown proper is a 6 block by 6 block grid.  Most streets are 2 lane and buildings are built right up to the road so there is no room for widening streets.  Our city doesn’t have the bones to support the density we have downtown. Never did, never will. 

Raleigh became a city of sprawl decades ago so we will never give up on our cars.  I only live 8 miles north of downtown and the nearest bus stop to me is exactly 1 mile from my front door.  The further out you go the more expensive it becomes to make bus stops accessible. A light rail that serves the city is an impossibility, the topography of Raleigh is inhospitable to rail and I am dubious of the BRT system the other candidates push simply because of our sprawl and the exponential cost of access as you travel out from downtown.  We have built too far out and thin on the one hand, and far too dense in the center on the other. We are at the same time Icarus who has flown too close to the sun and at the same time never getting off the ground. 

Caroline Sullivan: As we grow denser, infrastructure will continue to be a concern and must be one of many considerations with new development projects. Raleigh must keep up with road maintenance and prioritize the reduction of traffic and congestion. During my time on the Wake County Board of Commissioners, we developed and successfully passed the Wake County Transit Plan. As we continue to implement the long-term plan, we will see more bus service and more frequent bus service, improvements to bus stops, the development of bus rapid transit corridors in the city, and the commuter rail line from Garner to Research Triangle Park. As the Wake County Transit plan is built, Raleigh residents will have more robust transit options, which will help alleviate congestion as we grow. Density allows us to facilitate these diverse modes of transportation, and therefore, Raleigh must make investments in connectivity and first and last mile infrastructure for walking and biking. Walking and biking infrastructure are critical to making public transit a viable option for our residents. 

Justin L. Sutton: There are limitations to accelerated growth. All downtown development projects should be subject to traffic pattern studies prior to obtaining city approval. Increased density due to high-rise developments will only continue to strain our existing infrastructure and city resources (i.e. public utilities, waste management services public safety responsiveness, roadways, etc.), thus creating untenable circumstances which may impair the city’s ability to effectively address the health, safety, and welfare needs of our residents over time. 

We experience this firsthand every day through congestive traffic patterns, increased frequency of first responder reporting, and water/utility main breaks beneath our busy streets and roadways. Looking towards the future, we will need to place greater emphasis on infrastructure management programs and conduct feasibility studies to streamline municipal operations while maximizing public resource utility. We must also prioritize alternative mass transportation options such as bus rapid transit (BRT) systems with designated bus lanes to bypass traffic congestion in the most densely populated areas of the city.

QUESTION 3: According to the Arts & Economic Impact Study 5, the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Raleigh generated $532 million in economic activity, representing 95% of the total activity for Wake County in fiscal year 2015.  The creative economy also supports over 8,00 full-time equivalent jobs in Raleigh and generates $26 million in tax revenue for local government.  

What is your vision for the arts and the role they would play in Raleigh’s overall economic development strategy?

Mary-Ann Baldwin: The arts and our creative community play a critical role in Raleigh’s economy, complementing our tech community in ways that make our city unique. First, I think we need to encourage a culture that rewards innovation and risk-taking. Second, I would ask our Arts Commission to conduct a survey to determine the needs of our artists and creatives beyond “cheap studio space” and look for ways to encourage collaboration. Third, we need to promote the arts as an economic driver and work with non-profit partners and others to help build the brand.

Zainab Baloch: The ability to come together, celebrate, discuss, and support each other is one of the greatest pillars of our democracy. As we grow, we must prioritize spaces where our communities–the people who have been here for generations, people of color, LGBT!+, our young and our old, our creatives, our artists, our neighbors–can thrive. 

Mobility: The arts and culture generate tax revenue far beyond any government investment, adding dollars to city coffers and helping city budgets. However, in order for a community to be vibrant, its residents need to be able to afford to live there. 

Security: Communities with arts and culture organizations are seen as safer by their residents; they bring residents closer together and the arts act as a bridge between the community and police. Areas that are well-lit and have public art or murals attract pedestrians, bicyclists, and even auto traffic, which leads to safer and more vibrant communities. 

Happiness: Innovation can increase engagement. Chicago created a “modern-day suggestion box” by developing a $20 million loan fun to support promising innovations. Ideas can be just about anything so long as they pay for themselves, improve services, and don’t lead to the hiring of more staff. One winning idea; a new program that provides cash rewards to citizens reporting illegal tobacco sales. It’s expected to pay for itself through increased cigarette tax revenue. 

Charles Francis: N/A

George Knott: People accuse me of being in the arts.  I play the double bass for a living. I’ve done it for 20 years.  I am not an artist. I am a small business owner who exchanges a skill for payment.  I’ll never be rich, but it’s a living and every cent I have ever earned I have earned.  I have never taken a grant, hand-out, stipend or any financial reward for anything but work done. 

Every art is first a craft and not all craft is profitable.  If your craft is not profitable it is a hobby; if it is profitable it is a job.  I’m not sure exactly how that makes it any different from any other freelance job out there.  I provide a service, I negotiate compensation for that service and I pay taxes like everyone else. 

As long as there are Raleigh citizens living on the street, families who can’t afford safe housing and hungry children in our schools the talk of subsidizing the arts should be the end of conversation.  The WPA made great contributions with governments funded arts programs but we are not in the same climate by a long shot. Until we can get our city in order, artists have to make it on their own. That means they have to produce a commercially viable product, it means they will have to take commissions they don’t want, it means they will have to hustle for work.  Just like every other freelance job out there. 

Caroline Sullivan: Having a vibrant arts culture not only enriches our community experience, it attracts visitors and businesses and needs to be an integral part of any strategic plan for Raleigh. Cultural assets like the NC Art Museum, CAM, Gregg Museum, Burning Coal Theatre, NC Theatre, Theatre in the Park, Raleigh Little Theatre, the African American Cultural Festival, SparkCon, the International Bluegrass Festival, the Dreamville Festival, and the local music scene should be supported for their impact on tourism and on our quality of life, and for their role in fostering creativity and collaboration for our young people. I also believe it is important to have local artists and musicians work with schools to give more young people the opportunity to learn about and participate in arts and music.

Justin L. Sutton: The Raleigh arts & culture scene is certainly thriving today. I am a regular contributor to the N.C. Museum of Art. However, this industry is more than just a revenue stream as the cultural and socio-economic impact on this city is priceless! As mayor, I will prioritize funding and resources for this industry and continue to sponsor programs, lyceum events, and festivals to promote cultural diversity and inclusion for ALL residents across our city.

QUESTION 4: What is your vision for Raleigh 20 years from now? Development will happen whether you support it or not — so what is next? What is the big idea? What is YOUR big idea?

Mary-Ann Baldwin: Please see answers to Questions 1 and 2 above.

Zainab Baloch: Looking through the City of Raleigh’s website I came across our vision statement: To pursue world-class quality of life by actively collaborating with our community towards a fulfilling and inspired future for all. 

We can do this, but need to stay ahead of the curve, learn from the successes and failures of other cities, and take advantage of upcoming industries. Currently were dropping the ball on creating a world-class city, We are also letting certain economic opportunities pass us by. 

Right now, we have an opportunity to fulfill this vision if we can take advantage of our current situation: Presently, the green economy is worth ~ 4 trillion dollars, that’s as much as the current fossil fuel sector. It’s an industry other cities are already investing in. We have the opportunity now to jump on that, and incorporate it our infrastructure. 

If we don’t get on this, we’ll be missing out on not only money for ourselves and our future generations. We may be an up and coming tech city but we need to double down and plan ahead if we want to be a leader in innovation. 

It’s all about the future. Solutions focused on 2030. Not today. To solve today’s problems we need new solutions. We have to aspire to something better for our lives–not just fixing past problems.

Charles Francis: N/A

George Knott: Raleigh in 20 years will mirror San Francisco if we stay on the same path of corporate welfare and chasing growth at by all means available.   There is one script, one destination. We are speeding towards end stage capitalism. My big idea is nothing new. I believe a government’s main job is to help its citizens, and particularly the most needy citizens that the free market ignores.  This doesn’t mean a hand out, this means though civil projects, municipal job creation, education and job training and help with housing. Rather than focus on the most vulnerable and impoverished in our society our city acts as an agent for the already wealthy to become even richer.  When we incentivize growth and choose to invest in million and billion dollar companies to move into our city core, we superheat our problems of inequality, we create a class divide and drive the mechanism that has lead us into this housing crisis. Our housing crisis and incentivized growth are two sides of the same coin; you can’t feed one without feeding the other.   Raleigh will still grow if we don’t shovel tax dollars into the top and hope it trickles down. It won’t grow as fast and it won’t be easy but the consequences of growing the way we have been are far too heavy a burden to shoulder. 

Caroline Sullivan: Like many large cities, Raleigh is experiencing rapid change and growth, and this presents challenges and opportunities. We have a choice. We can choose to ignore the changes coming in our future, or we can come together to collaborate and create a shared vision to build a Raleigh that works for all of us. Together, we can build a city of the future–a vibrant, sustainable city that offers opportunity for all residents and builds resiliency for our future. One challenge of growth that must be addressed with urgency is housing affordability. I would convene an affordable housing summit to establish our shared long range housing plans, similar to the meetings used to create the Wake County Transit Plan. The summit would include representatives from the city, county, other municipalities, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, developers, banks, businesses, and community members. At the conclusion, a permanent affordable housing commission would be established to continuously address this issue with a long-term, collaborative plan. We must put divisiveness and pettiness aside, and bring everyone to the table to work collaboratively to find balanced solutions. Together, we can develop short and long-term plans that ensure Raleigh grows and builds for the future but not at the expense of Raleigh’s longest-term residents.

Justin L. Sutton: I am a proponent of strategic growth with a social purpose. There must be a dynamic shift in how we do business in this city, how we govern as a collective body, and how we effectively manage city resources/operations for long term sustainability and growth. This starts with effective leadership, greater transparency, strategic fiscal policy, and responsible infrastructure planning to scale down unnecessary private developments. We must also do a better job of engaging our citizens throughout all functions of local government.  

QUESTION 5: With rising costs for parking and rent, what will you do to help keep independent, locally-owned shops in downtown Raleigh from being swallowed up by larger chains?

Mary-Ann Baldwin: When I was on the City Council, we initiated programs to encourage locally-owned businesses to open in downtown. The Building Upfit Grant provides up to $25,000 in funds to small businesses to update, renovate or expand a retail space (the exceptions are bars and breweries). The city also offers Façade Rehabilitation Grants, as well as Impact Partner Grants, which are focused on innovators, entrepreneurs and small businesses with an emphasis on underrepresented entrepreneurs. All of these grants are designed to support our small business community.

The City also partners with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance to attract, promote and retain small businesses in downtown, and advocate for small business needs.

A barrier that prevents small businesses from opening in downtown and other districts (such as Person Street) is our Unified Development Ordinance. Currently, small businesses must incur extensive costs and work through onerous regulations due to the “change in use” policy in the UDO. Without getting into the weeds, let’s use Scott Crawford’s Jolie restaurant as an example. He had to go through an extensive process that required a site plan review and an appearance before the Board of Adjustment, which added cost and created delays. We need to change this policy and streamline the process to encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs to open in Raleigh.

Zainab Baloch: We will support Ethical and Equitable Business Practices. Raleigh is on the nation’s radar as one of the top places to work–we’re in a position to decide how we grow, and who we grow with. 

We will recruit companies that will not only create jobs, but are sustainable and socially minded. We will prioritize companies that: 

  • Will support employees with living wages, parental leave and healthcare
  • Are environmentally conscious
  • Will create jobs at every level, not just for university graduates 
  • We will prioritize the success of our local businesses, established and in-the-making 
  • Support local entrepreneurs with easy-to-reach information and advising about starting a business
  • Provide grants for women, LGBTQ+, and black and brown entrepreneurs – Incentivize mixed-use developers to build smaller, ground-level storefronts, rather than large, higher rent spaces–creating more accessible spaces for local business owners to open shop
  • Create more rotating pop-up spaces for local entrepreneurs 

Charles Francis: N/A

George Knott: There is no way to stop locally owned shops from being swallowed up.  Capitalism is ruthless and brutal and it makes no quarter for sentimentality.  I could fill a book with shops and stores that were owned, operated, and run by Raleigh resident that have been overtaken by chains or simply bulldozed for condos.  This is classic third stage gentrification; and by the third stage it is quite too late to intervene. 

Of course, on the other hand, Raleigh has grown massively in our downtown over the last 20 years; and the companies that come to our downtown import their own workforce.  People who live downtown by and large are not from Raleigh, and if we don’t seem to mind filling up our downtown with transplants why would we care about keeping our locally owned shops?  Who is there to care? Who even remembers Yates Garage or Sadlacks, or Pine State, or the Mordecai Dress Shop, or Finches, or the Bear Alignment shop or, well, I think I’m just going on and on for my own sake now.  It’s hard to be a stranger in your own city.

Caroline Sullivan: One of the things that makes Raleigh so special is our abundance of locally owned businesses. It is important that the city continues to foster and support locally owned business downtown and across the city. The city must offer grants and technical assistance for small businesses that want to expand and cut red tape to help local employers grow and increase job opportunities for the local workforce. Raleigh must invest in our residents’ abilities to maximize their potential in a changing economy. From making it easier to help small businesses expand, to supporting working families, to providing more opportunities for youth jobs and apprenticeships, we need to build a city that promotes economic opportunity for all of us. 

Justin L. Sutton: We must incentivize small business growth, development, and sustainability within the city by increasing the amount of funding assistance and grant opportunities available through our city’s Economic Development Fund Program and transfers from the city’s general fund. I will also prioritize growth opportunities for small, minority, veteran, and women owned businesses by prioritizing the purchase of local goods and services across all city contracts awarded to bolster our local economy. 

READ MORE: Raleigh city council election guide + more questionnaires

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Author: raleighconvergence

Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen is the editor of Raleigh Convergence.

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