Young challengers emerge for Raleigh City Council races

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJune 22, 2013 

— With the election filing period less than two weeks away, five challengers have stepped up to run for Raleigh City Council. Most are significantly younger than the incumbents they face in the October election.

While more challengers could register during the July 5-19 filing period, so far four district council seats have competition. In Southwest Raleigh’s District D, Jim Kemp Sherron will face incumbent Thomas Crowder. Southeast Raleigh’s District C will be a rematch from 2011, with Racquel Williams again challenging incumbent Eugene Weeks. North Raleigh’s District A pits Wayne Maiorano against incumbent Randy Stagner. And two candidates will face incumbent John Odom in Northeast Raleigh’s District B: Sam Smith and Brian Fitzsimmons.

Three of the challengers are under 35, with most making their first run for elected office. “I do believe people of younger generations are getting more involved in the political scene,” said Smith, a 23-year-old Realtor with Coldwell Banker. “We are the leaders of tomorrow, and it’s really time to stand up.”

Smith says he wants to keep taxes low to continue attracting newcomers, and he’s also focused on transportation issues. A former airline pilot who moved to Raleigh last year, he said he’s noticed the city council sometimes funds unnecessary projects, such as an expensive refurbishing of the Pullen Park carousel. He also opposes what he calls “excessive ordinances,” such as a dead-end street in his district that was denied permission to install a security gate.

Joining Smith in the District B race is Fitzsimmons, the 31-year-old chief operating officer of The Sorin Group, a Raleigh-based business insurance and consulting firm.

Fitzsimmons says he’s running to better connect constituents with their city government. “Certainly when the changes with the city manager came out, not a lot of people understood what that meant and how that affected them,” he said.

He cites transportation issues as his top priority. “There’s some mornings where it takes me 45 minutes to get from Mitchell Mill Road to the Beltline,” he said. “I would like to do as much as I possibly can to relieve a lot of the stigma that (Capital Area Transit) has today.”

In District D, Sherron, a Raleigh native and N.C. State graduate, is also making his first run for office. The 26-year-old manager of a downtown apartment building says he’s running because he wants to improve his hometown.

“We have a lot of opportunities that a lot of other municipalities don’t have,” he said. “We need passionate leadership to become a true 21st-century capital city.”

As a 2009 State graduate, Sherron may be able to mobilize student voters. He says he’ll be listening to Southwest Raleigh residents from all walks of life. “For me, it really is about trying to get as many perspectives as we can,” he said.

‘It’s a new voice’

North Raleigh candidate Maiorano is a bit older than the other challengers.

He moved to Raleigh in 1994 following his service in the Marine Corps, and he’s now an attorney with Smith Anderson and a member of the city’s planning commission. “I believe we are currently facing some critical decisions and opportunities in the city of Raleigh,” he said.

Maiorano says he wants to work on managing growth and economic development. He said the council needs to focus on big-picture issues, alluding to his opponent’s exchange with the city manager over a parking space.

“We should not be micromanaging,” he said. “We should not be in the weeds on these things.”

In Southeast Raleigh, Williams’ campaign promises to take a nontraditional approach. Using the theme “Righteous in Authority,” she held a campaign kickoff Tuesday in Nash Square that sounded more like a sermon than a political speech.

“I am not a politician,” Williams told supporters, adding that she’s running after hearing a call from God. “It’s a new voice; it’s a new sound; it’s a new standard; and it’s a new administration.”

Williams wants to foster better partnerships between the two historically black colleges in her district, Shaw University and Saint Augustine’s University.

So far, no challengers have announced plans to run against the incumbents for mayor, at-large council seats or the District E seat.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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