Under departing Mayor Charles Meeker, Raleigh City Council meetings have been crisp, efficient and exhibited only occasional discord. That was positive in the eyes of most observers, although on occasion Meeker's critics thought he moved things along a little too quickly. But despite his soft-spoken nature, when it came to leading even the more independent-minded council members, he was strong.
Now that force will be absent, with Meeker giving the job up after a decade, and council members, many of whom worked closely with Meeker and understood his methods, will work under one of three candidates for the mayor's post - Billie Redmond, current council member Nancy McFarlane or Dr. Randall Williams.
That will change the dynamics on the next council. But it should not hinder the group from doing progressive, thoughtful and creative things for the city. The News & Observer's editorial endorsements today reflect a belief we think is shared by most in Raleigh, that the city has been generally well-run and should stay true to the direction it is on - one of looking forward and facing up to problems such as the need for jobs and more efficient transit, along with keeping an eye on the preservation of drinking water supplies and open space.
The city's debt, a concern to some office-seekers but relatively small compared with other cities', will nevertheless be on the minds of the next council's members. So will the debate over a proposed public safety center, and the future of the Dorothea Dix Hospital property. Most council members, and all three candidates for mayor, want those 306 prime acres preserved as a park, which is exactly what should happen. Let's hope that conviction holds.
And let's hope as well that the next council continues to remain open to input from ordinary citizens, something that's not the case everywhere. That's one "small-town" characteristic that Raleigh has retained even with the tremendous growth over the last decade.
Herewith, our choices for at-large and district council races. All terms are for two years.
Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson are the incumbents in these positions, the occupants of which are charged with representing the interests of the entire city. That could mean taking care of details such as helping a constituent get attention for city services, or mustering support among fellow council members for citywide initiatives. Baldwin, 54, a marketing consultant, and Stephenson, 55, an architect, are seeking their third and fourth terms, respectively.
They've earned re-election. One reason, which applies to some of their colleagues as well, is that these council members have been part of what Mayor Meeker has sought to accomplish for the city, and they've supported progressive steps such as a convention center and the reopening of Fayetteville Street. They also understand the importance of transit improvements and are open to ideas for light rail and better bus service, for example.
In other words, they are positive people, not naysayers who find a reason to reject any idea that's a bit different.
The third candidate in the race is Paul Fitts, a 42-year-old mortgage lender. Fitts, who's a bit more conservative than Baldwin and Stephenson, has carried on a credible campaign. But he has, as so many new candidates do this year, a hard case to make for displacing a successful incumbent.
This is the north Raleigh district seat given up by Nancy McFarlane so that she might seek the mayor's chair. She's being replaced by either Randall Stagner, 51, or Gail Wilkins, 55.
Stagner, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is our choice because of his progressive ideas and his administrative experience in the military. In candidate forums, he has been well-spoken, clear in his thoughts and objectives. They include economic development efforts to be stepped up at City Hall, and transit options that he believes are critically needed in his district in particular. He seems to be someone who would work well with other council members, while at the same time not allowing himself to be aligned with any single group of council compadres.
Wilkins, with a long record of involvement in the community, would focus her attention as a council member on bringing new jobs to the city. She'd also like to see improved bus service, which she vows she has used on a regular basis. It's hard to argue with either of her objectives.
Incumbent Eugene Weeks, 71, gets our endorsement for a first elected term. Long involved in community work in this Southeast Raleigh district, Weeks is a retired military man and educator. He was appointed to fill the seat of James West, who left the council to become a county commissioner.
In the tradition of previous District C representatives including West, Brad Thompson and the late Ralph Campbell, Weeks has been on the ground in a variety of projects in the district. He's well-known and familiar with the issues in a district that includes a large number of lower-income residents.
Four candidates are challenging him, perhaps reflecting a feeling on the part of some in the district that new leaders need to be developed in a community that has relied on familiar names for public service. And in these four candidates there likely are some passionate future leaders to be sure. Corey Branch, 33, Shelia Jones, 48, and Racquel Williams, 36, have shown their familiarity with the district and its problems. So to some degree has Paul Terrell, 44, although his conservative take on many issues is well outside the mainstream.
Three members of the council will be re-elected because no one in their districts has chosen to challenge them. All three have done a credible job, so while a little opposition sometimes brings good issues to the fore, these three incumbents are worthy of more time at City Hall.
District B's John Odom, 64, has served this northeast Raleigh district for six terms in two intervals. (He ran for mayor against Meeker once, and was the Republican nominee for state commissioner of insurance once.) This would be, therefore his seventh term, and the conservative Odom, a business owner, has sometimes pulled against the tide on matters of spending or other initiatives. But his popularity in his district indicates he does a good job for constituents, and his plain-spokenness is welcome.
District D's Thomas Crowder, 55, seeks his fifth council term, and he has earned it. He seems to be very popular in his southwest Raleigh district that includes N.C. State University. That's why he's unchallenged. Sometimes Crowder, an architect by profession, is a maverick, but at the end of the day he's been a progressive voice concerned about managed growth, water conservation and the development of light rail. He is a keeper.
District E includes northwest and west Raleigh. It has been represented well by Bonner Gaylord, 33, now seeking a second term. Gaylord is the general manager of North Hills, and holds an MBA degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. He leans a bit more toward the conservative political side, though he's unaffiliated in terms of political party. He's open-minded, energetic and seems able to work with colleagues in a conciliatory but firm way. While he spoke forcefully on occasion, Gaylord appeared to be spending some time in his first term listening and learning. There's nothing wrong with that.