The City of Raleigh will hold elections for Mayor and City Council on October 6th. In the at-large city council race, incumbents Mary Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson will face Matt Tomasulo and Craig S. Ralph.
This blog will include interviews with each candidate, with answers published as they are received.
Mary Ann Baldwin is an at-large member of City Council, having served since 2007. The DLA asked Mary Ann a series of questions.
Here are her answers:
What factors need to be balanced in providing for downtown Raleigh’s growth as a vital, sustainable, creative environment for both residents and businesses?
Raleigh’s population will double in the next 20 years. To be prepared, we developed a new comprehensive plan beginning eight years ago. It outlines our vision, goals, strategies, and tactics – covering everything from density to sustainability to creativity. It also identifies eight growth areas, one being downtown.
We need to balance the fear of growth with the reality; the concern about density with the alternative (sprawl); the development of high-end housing with the creation of affordable housing; and the desires of downtown residents with the needs of thriving businesses, coupled with the expectations of visitors and tourists. These are complex issues – not a sound bite. I have to commend the Glenwood South Neighborhood Collaborative, which has done a good job working together as a community, bringing together residents and merchants to talk and even disagree. Being adversarial accomplishes little; being sensitive to other people’s desires, listening to all sides and acting with a good heart is the key to success. It’s all about balance and compromise.
We also have to strive for a better retail mix using strategies and incentives to meet residents’ needs; respect and celebrate the historic and African-American neighborhoods that surround downtown; and create open space, new parks and greenway connections to ensure a great quality of life.
Having served on City Council since 2007 and as co-founder of Innovate Raleigh with its mission of connecting entrepreneurs with resources and promoting innovation, what do you see as your most significant accomplishments of the past eight years? What changes have had the greatest impact on the character of Raleigh, and what are the greatest opportunities going forward?
I am very proud of being a co-founder of Innovate Raleigh. This effort was born out of necessity. We were in the midst of the recession and young people were having trouble finding jobs. There was a lot of talk about creating incubators for technology, art and fashion. What resulted was a community discussion that served as a catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation, the formation of HQ Raleigh (which now serves more than 100 startups), a direct flight to/from San Francisco, the creation of Raleigh M.A.I.N. Event (which celebrates the music, arts and innovative events happening in Raleigh during September), and the creation of a unique position in the City of Raleigh – a manager of entrepreneurship and innovation whose main job is to connect startups and help make them successful.
Another significant accomplishment revolves around the potential redevelopment of the Warehouse District and the Moore Square District. I have to give my dog credit for some of this…☺. Walking downtown with him helps me see things in a new light. While walking through the Warehouse District one morning, the streets were empty and void and I thought we should do more to make something happen. So I went to work. I approached Sharefile, which was later purchased by Citrix, and we had discussions about moving their company to the Warehouse District. Little did I know that it would lead to 700 new jobs in Citrix/Sharefile’s beautiful new facility – probably the most innovative work environment in the region. That’s what I’m proudest of. Taking a chance, having a vision, making the ask, and helping to make it happen. It’s a huge win for our city.
Likewise, I am very proud to have led the effort in the City’s purchase of the former Salvation Army building. That effort took more than a year to get done – the City had never been involved in a land-banking purchase like this before. This action was very strategic, and it has the promise to rejuvenate the entire Moore Square District.
I’m gratified to have envisioned and led the efforts for two transformational projects on either side of downtown in areas with little economic development activity. Soon, they’ll both be thriving, adding to our tax base and vitality.
I’m also proud of my role in the Moore Square issue known as “Biscuit-gate.” You may recall the firestorm that erupted over feeding the homeless in the park. I viewed this as an opportunity for leadership and stepped in the middle of the controversy. Through hearings and meetings and City Council directives, we were able to open the Oak City Outreach Center, where churches and charitable organizations now feed the homeless with dignity. We also have a long-term solution – a multi-service center with programs to assist the homeless with jobs, health care, and other issues. This is a partnership with the county. Bringing together so many diverse groups was key to success, and I’m pretty proud of my role and the leadership from such organizations as the Raleigh / Wake Partnership to End Homelessness, Catholic Charities, the Raleigh Rescue Mission and Love Wins Ministries, among many others. Once again this is proof that collaboration is the key to success.
Residents of downtown Raleigh find themselves diverging at a crossroads that finds expression through a focus on how to manage late night noise and shape what some view as rampant development. What guidance would you offer if you were sitting over a drink with friends from both camps?
As the Chair of the City’s Law & Public Safety Committee, I’ve been dealing with this issue for months. When I attended the Downtown Raleigh Alliance’s Fayetteville Street District meeting, I felt that people were talking over one another rather than talking to one another. The guidance is simple: be nice to one another. You get more with honey than vinegar. And who knows? You might even decide you like one another. Don’t treat people like the enemy. Look for common ground.
That may seem simplistic but I really believe that you can accomplish anything through kindness and collaboration. I would also meet them for that drink on a downtown sidewalk.
What three adjectives would you use to describe what you love best about downtown Raleigh, and what is needed most to further develop those aspects?
When I moved to Raleigh 26 years ago, the downtown was deserted after 5 pm. In fact, there was little reason to come here during the day unless you worked for the government. Even the museums were shoddy. I’m not going to use adjectives, but instead I’m going to say what I love best about downtown Raleigh.
First – the entrepreneurs and connectors who are creating a city of innovation. The sense of community is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. People here want to help each other, they want to connect you with people who can expand your social network or help you grow your business. I often describe it as a movement. You can see it, feel it and embrace it. It amazes and enthralls me every day.
Second is the creativity – artists, musicians, fashion designers, graphic designers, marketing gurus, social media geniuses, film makers, videographers, architects, engineers, makers, foodies, craft brewers, coders, and gamers. Because of NC State, we have thousands of people who have stayed in Raleigh and changed the city. A lot of cities can claim to be a city of innovation. But we can honestly say we are a city of innovation and creativity.
And third, I love the geographic, cultural and ethnic diversity of downtown. We have historic neighborhoods, new high-rises, a main street with skyscrapers and historic character. We enjoy city squares and parks (although we need more of them), urban watering holes, the Nature Research Center, Marbles Kids Museum, the NC History Museum, Seaboard, Person Street, College Park, South Park, Chavis Park. Downtown is a place that celebrates the past, and looks forward to the future.
In essence, I love the sense of community, the creativity and the diversity. And what do we need most? 1. Transit options to better connect the city and its residents. 2. Affordable housing, a key component to transit success. 3. And more density along transit corridors. That will further build the sense of community we’ve developed, give the creative class more options for housing and work, and help us maintain the diverse character that is Raleigh.
Candidates website: www.maryannforraleigh.com