Elections

Mary-Ann Baldwin is Raleigh’s next mayor after Francis decides against runoff

Former City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin will be Raleigh’s next mayor, after attorney Charles Francis said Friday he will not seek a runoff.

“It’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait,” Baldwin said in an interview Friday, after Francis announced his decision in a news release.

Council member Kay Crowder also announced Friday on Facebook that she will not seek a runoff in her bid to rejoin the council. Her decision means Saige Martin will be the City Council member in District D, which covers the areas around N.C. State and further to the south and west.

At-large council member Russ Stephenson also conceded defeat Friday afternoon, announcing he wouldn’t ask for a runoff against challenger Jonathan Melton.

Melton and Martin will now become Raleigh’s first openly gay city council members.

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Raleigh City Council member Kay Crowder, left, and challenger Saige Martin.

Martin, who is 28, also will be youngest city leader.

“It’s not nervousness,” he said of how he was feeling Friday afternoon. “It reminds me that I need to rise to meet the moment.”

In the other concession Friday, Stephenson wrote on his Facebook page that he and Melton share many of the same progressive values. He expressed his wish that the rest of the council will “embrace Jonathan’s commitment to finding common ground as the means to withstand the increasingly polarized, personalized and monetized politics, and instead stay focused on the common good.”

For his part, Melton tweeted that he was boarding a plane as he got the news and couldn’t do any interviews, but wrote that he’s “extremely proud to serve in this seat.”

Baldwin will fill the mayor’s seat occupied by Nancy McFarlane since 2011. McFarlane chose not to seek re-election after serving four two-year terms.

Baldwin, who decided against seeking a fifth term as a City Council member in 2017, led with 38% of the votes in Tuesday’s election. Francis came in second with 31%, and former Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan was third with 20.5%.

Baldwin said Friday afternoon that Francis called her just before he made his public announcement and was “very gracious” in conceding the race.

She said she is “ecstatic” as she spoke of her plans to focus on public transit, affordable housing and other issues that featured in her campaign.

Francis said in his statement that he expected to come in first in the election, the second time he has run to be the mayor of North Carolina’s capital city.

“However, that didn’t happen,” he said in his statement. “After reviewing the results and analyzing a runoff race, I have concluded that the path to a runoff victory to re-connect with my voters and reach other voters concerned about our city would require an additional several hundred thousand dollars — more resources than available for an election just three weeks away.”

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Raleigh mayoral candidate Charles Francis greets supporters gathered for a watch party at Cantina 18 in Cameron Village on election night, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Raleigh, NC. Casey Toth ctoth@newsobserver.com

Early voting for a Nov. 5 election would have started Oct. 16.

In Francis’ statement, he said he campaigned to “include all people in Raleigh’s growth, decision-making and prosperity,” and will continue to do so.

“The lofty rhetoric we often hear about Raleigh does not match the reality for too many people,” he said.

He congratulated Baldwin and said the city should unite to “support, guide and hold accountable our new Mayor and City Council to truly build a Raleigh for All.”

In an interview Friday, Baldwin said housing affordability is going to be her “No. 1 priority.”

“So I’m going to get going on that as soon as possible,” she said. “I came up with a 10-point plan on housing affordability, so I’m going to get going on that with the council.”

Another issue high on her list, Baldwin said, is to dig into the details of how Raleigh can better “create walkable urban communities. That’s what we’ve been talking about for years, and we’re finally in a place where we can get that done.”

Council seats

Crowder ran against Martin and two others in the District D election on Tuesday. Martin received 47% of the vote, just short of the 50% needed to win outright. When Crowder let him know Friday that she wouldn’t seek a runoff against him, Martin said, a mix of emotions went through his head.

“I was shocked at the result that came in on (election night) Tuesday between myself and Kay,” he said. “I had certainly hoped for a runoff but figured I’d be in second.”

In Crowder’s announcement not to seek a runoff, she thanked residents of District D “for the great honor and privilege of serving as your city councilor. It has been exciting to be a part of the wonderful changes that have made this city the best in the country.”

She congratulated Martin and wished him well in his new role.

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Challenger Jonathan Melton, left, and Raleigh City Council member Russ Stephenson

Martin said he ran an unapologetically progressive campaign, focused on issues like criminal justice reform and police accountability, that he’s glad resonated with so many voters. But he said he also wants to keep up the legacy that Crowder and her late husband, Thomas Crowder, created. Thomas Crowder served for more than a decade before his death in 2014, and Kay Crowder has held that seat for the five years since.

“I would be a fool to forget how much work she and her husband Thomas put into making this city what it is,” Martin said.

As for the rest of the City Council, incumbents Corey Branch, David Cox and Nicole Stewart won their races outright, despite a multitude of challengers. Newcomer Patrick Buffkin will fill Dickie Thompson’s District A seat, after Thompson decided against running for re-election. David Knight won against incumbent Stef Mendell in District E.

This story is developing and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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