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Raleighites Agenda: At-large candidates’ responses

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

Here are the at-large candidates for Raleigh city council.

Read their responses to the community-submitted questionnaire, the Raleighites Agenda. Click on the questionnaire links for individual responses or keep scrolling for the answers organized by question.


(Names are linked to campaign sites for more info)

James Garland Bledsoe: See his answers here

Jonathan Melton: See his answers here

Portia Rochelle: See her answers here

Carlie Allison Spencer: Did not respond to emails sent on Sept. 11, 15.

Russ Stephenson (incumbent): Did not respond to emails sent on Sept. 11, 15.

Nicole Stewart (incumbent): Declined to complete questionnaire, see statement below questionnaire.


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?

James Garland Bledsoe: I expect Raleigh to be much denser in 10 years. We will have gotten ahead of our housing supply shortage by allowing multifamily housing to be constructed all over the city along with ADUs in a few backyards. We will have created a walkable and rideable city by having protected bike lanes for cyclists and scooters, sidewalks everywhere for pedestrians. Our small businesses that once operated out of vehicles will have opened shops or gotten larger along with the success of our AirBnB owners who took advantage of our increasing tourism. Our first responders are near full staffing and are paid well enough that the majority can live in the city. 

I plan to put forth this vision of growth by first expanding our housing options and allowing ADUs & a great deal of housing supply to be built through upzoning, the removal of height restrictions on apartments, & through the removal of overlays which also restrict the growth potential of many areas of the city. To improve our infrastructure, I would lower fees from e-scooters from $300 to $100, remove the secondary insurance to allow competition to return, and then use the fees to pay for protected bike lanes and new sidewalks. To allow our small businesses and startups to grow, I would remove many of the regulations that limit their activity and operation. To capitalize of our record tourism from 2018 forward, I would enact modest rules on whole home rentals to include: minimum distance between rentals, annual record keeping fee, & quarterly inspection fee. Use the collected fees to hire code enforcement and to pay off city debts. To pay our First Responders I would enact the Bledsoe Pay Plan found on electjamesbledsoe.com that many fire fighters have blessed off on. 

Jonathan Melton: All signs point to Raleigh’s continued growth, but we need to make sure that growth happens in a way that is responsible, sustainable, and inclusive. To protect and provide affordable housing, city council needs to build relationships with developers, realtors, builders, and affordable housing agencies. An immediate priority of the next city council should be establishing processes for fair, transparent decision making. The current council has a block of members who, when they vote the same way on an item, can push it through without the need for discussion or coalition building. This is not how good governing should work. A strong city council will have enough difference in member ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds to create lively debate and discussion, but will be required to thoroughly examine every issue that comes before it to find compromise solutions. As a family law attorney, I have seen firsthand the creative solutions that come from a little bit of conflict and a lot of compromise. Introducing that civility, and setting a precedent for thoughtful discussion will pave the way to tackling the issues our city currently and will inevitably face, no matter how complex. 

Portia Wilson Rochelle: Vision for the future of the city is to become the city for people who live here.  Focus on safe for all, compact to become incredibly livable and pleasurable and more financially sustainable.

Carlie Allison Spencer: N/A

Russ Stephenson (incumbent): N/A

Nicole Stewart (incumbent): N/A

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?

James Garland Bledsoe: 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? 

We have to create a walkable and rideable city and that means getting people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks, bikes, or scooters. Right now, we have council members fighting against putting sidewalks in where people are walking on streets or through wood lines, it’s utterly asinine. If we are going to put our money where our mouth is about fighting carbon emissions then we have to put an end to voting in these councilors. We need sidewalks all over the city, that shouldn’t need to be discussed any further than getting someone from a to b on a path for pedestrians. When it comes to improving mobility and avoiding gridlock, we need to have a rideable city too. We have painted bike lanes in the city and sometimes just a sign, if that. That does nothing to prevent a car from parking or swerving into a bike lane. Bollards and delineators are the way to go here. They are cheap and easy to install and provide a barrier between car and bike lanes. Getting this protection would allow cyclists and scooter riders a safer place to ride and get many off the streets and sidewalks where cars and pedestrians have incidents with them. We have a means of paying for it too without raising taxes. Lower the scooter fees, remove the secondary insurance, & get competition going between e-scooter companies. Once that happens, we use those fees to pay for this upgrade. Provide safe places for people to walk and ride as well as promoting BRT, and you’ll see less gridlock. 

Jonathan Melton: This is an example of where we can be smart in our growth. If we improve public transit options and build high-density development along transit corridors, traffic will not worsen and will likely reduce. Raleigh traffic is largely based on the fact that the city has been built to prioritize sprawl, which has created a dependence on cars. There are a few universal aspects to walkability: the area must be useful (are a variety of activities placed within walking distance of each other?), it must be safe (making sure city blocks aren’t too big, that traffic lanes are wide enough and traffic calming devices are put in place to reduce car speed, ensuring that cycling is a safe option by designating bike lanes for and protecting them from vehicle traffic), and it should be interesting (we should create active, engaging streets, instead of prioritizing bulk and parking).

Portia Wilson Rochelle: Focus on having more of all things (jobs, schools, business, shopping, transportation, medical, entertainment, etc.) for people in areas where they live.

Carlie Allison Spencer: N/A

Russ Stephenson (incumbent): N/A

Nicole Stewart (incumbent): N/A

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?

James Garland Bledsoe: I have limited knowledge in this field so I would hold any recommendations for any change, if needed at all, until city staff or experts gave their input. If we have the ability to stably increase support for the arts to generate more revenue and jobs, then by all means let’s do it. 

Jonathan Melton: We need to stop taking the arts for granted and realize it’s both a cultural and economic activity. Arts organizations could generate significant tourism revenue and help make Raleigh more of a destination city. We need to make sure we are adequately funding and promoting these organizations and activities.  

Portia Wilson Rochelle: If study is true, then the arts role will be the lead for how the overall economic development strategy should impact the other  5% performance.

Carlie Allison Spencer: N/A

Russ Stephenson (incumbent): N/A

Nicole Stewart (incumbent): N/A

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?

James Garland Bledsoe: My vision is to bring Raleigh up to speed with tech innovations. 5G services will be big for the next 10 years and deployment of this platform won’t come the way we expect it to. I’ve spoken with Verizon and AT&T, they have many different ways they will bring the service here as well as installing a separate service band for our first responders so emergency services will still be able to communicate during cell tower over use. I want Raleigh to pioneer negative emission technology implementation as well solar and wind. These don’t have to be ugly projects; we can couple the arts with this tech to make beautiful and productive energy generators. We also need to look into AI technologies and how they may help our city in any way possible. The world is changing, Raleigh has to keep up. 

Jonathan Melton: We need to be sure that as Raleigh grows, city council doesn’t make enemies of developers, which is exactly what will happen if we remain on the current path. Instead of holding developers hostage to include affordable housing units in projects, placing limits on building height, and burying projects in red tape and the permitting process, we need to form working relationships with everyone in the housing and development industry so that projects are started and completed with every factor and affected party in mind. In 2039, Raleigh should be a dense, green, walkable city.  We should see a surplus of affordable housing options, a city infrastructure operating entirely (or nearly entirely) on renewable energy, and a city government that represents the diversity in age, race, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, and career background that we are lucky enough to attract to this city.

Portia Wilson Rochelle: The big idea is to stop focusing on the 1950-1960 building of manufacturing jobs, bigger highways and roads to move more cars, and more single family houses for families. ‘Go compact.’

Carlie Allison Spencer: N/A

Russ Stephenson (incumbent): N/A

Nicole Stewart (incumbent): N/A

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?

James Garland Bledsoe: As I’ve stated before, we have to remove many of the restrictions placed on our small business as well as offer similar incentives to not only keep them here but to also get more startups and entrepreneurs to see Raleigh as a fertile business opportunity. America is about to enter another industrial revolution through 5G and AI implementation in nearly everything we see and use. We need to be prepared for that event by making sure our ordinances, infrastructure, and zoning don’t conflict with that. As a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, we cannot delay in this else we fall further behind other cities in NC and the USA. We need an adequate housing supply which is where ADUs and multifamily housing comes in. We also need to stop increasing taxes and fees for residents and business owners alike. Every time we do, the cost of living gets higher and higher. I will work closer with our city staff and local businesses to see how we can increase revenue through collaboration and by hosting e-town halls each month so everyone can voice their opinion in real time. 

Jonathan Melton: One overlooked way to help small downtown businesses in Raleigh, that has been proven to work in other cities, is improving urban walkability. If we can make commuting by foot downtown more active and engaging, people are more likely to walk than to travel a few blocks by car. A more obvious way to protect existing small, local businesses and to invite new ones is to ease and expedite the permitting and zoning process so that independent business owners are not stifled by prolonged delays. City council should incentivize small business development, especially by minority business owners, by partnering with community agencies to offer loans in instances where a small business could provide demonstrable value to the community.

Portia Wilson Rochelle: Think about capping increases in annual tax assessment year after year unless the property changes hands.

Carlie Allison Spencer: N/A

Russ Stephenson (incumbent): N/A

Nicole Stewart (incumbent): N/A


“As a working mom, career conservationist, philanthropist, and wife of a small business owner, I have brought a unique perspective to my service as your city council representative. My top three issues are housing affordability, expanding transit options, and protecting our environment. We can tackle these issues by building an abundance of diverse housing options, implementing the Wake County Transit Plan, and focusing on creating an equitable transportation system. We can protect our planet by creating actionable steps to meet the goal of reducing Raleigh’s climate population 80% by 2050, a goal I pushed council to set. I believe we can do all this by bringing more diverse voices to the decision making table. Raleigh is a diverse and growing city, and government leadership should reflect not just who we are, but also where we’re going.”

Author: raleighconvergence

Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen is the editor of Raleigh Convergence.

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