May 5, 2017 Comments are off chelsey

Raleigh Votes to Establish a Community Engagement Board, Which Critics Worry Will Take Power Away from Citizens Advisory Councils

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City leader tries to spur community engagement, involvement

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Corey Branch Endorsed by Indy Week

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An old-guard Democrat, Eugene Weeks has served on Council since 2010, after being appointed to fill the District C seat left open by current Wake County Commissioner James West. He points to such achievements as securing funding for the New Bern Avenue corridor, advocating for funds from the city’s parks bond to go toward Chavis Park and Community Center, building more bus shelters and luring an Art Pope grocery store to a previously vacant Kroger space.


But there’s a perception that Weeks is inactive on Council and unresponsive to his constituents, content to coast on the status quo and vote with the other Democrats. And there’s the fact that District C, which covers the city’s mostly African-American southeast section, has largely been left behind by the city’s recent prosperity. There’s been little in the way of economic development or neighborhood revitalization, and vacant buildings and boarded-up housing complexes are commonplace.

District C deserves better. The INDY endorses Corey Branch.

Branch, who ran unsuccessfully against Weeks in 2011, has since served as a member of both the Raleigh Transit Authority and the Wake County Transit Advisory Committee, making him something of a transit expert—which is an expertise District C needs, as many of its residents rely on bus service to get around. Branch has the right ideas for the district, including focusing on economic inclusion without gentrification, engaging with citizens and improving transit. This time around, he’s ready to serve.

Weeks is a formidable candidate and has outraised Branch 3–1. It will be difficult for Branch to win. Even so, with his fresh ideas and eye toward the future, he’s the better candidate.

Watch the throne: Three young, credible challengers seek to upend the Raleigh City Council

Excerpt from Indy Week Article. Read more here:

It’s not complicated why Corey Branch is running. “I look at the growth across the city, and then I look at District C.”

Everywhere else, Raleigh is booming. Southeast Raleigh isn’t. Empty grocery stores, half-empty strip malls and neglected neighborhoods are commonplace. “It’s time for new leadership that’s more proactive,” Branch says.

His goal: economic development that provides opportunities for people living in the district but without the gentrification that would drive their taxes up and them out. One key: robust public transit—a subject that Branch knows quite a bit about—tied to affordable housing, perhaps backed by tax incentives.

All of which will require that residents be better informed and more engaged, he says.

A senior technical manager with AT&T, Branch is 37, making him the oldest of the three challengers. But he’s half the age of the incumbent, Weeks, who was appointed to this office five years ago when James West, who’d held it for 10 years, was picked to fill a vacancy on the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

For as long as anyone can remember, that’s how Southeast Raleigh—historically African-American—has been run: A tight cadre of black Democrats chooses the candidates who invariably win election.

Weeks waited his turn while serving on the city’s parks and recreation board and leading voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. In his first campaign after being appointed, Weeks easily defeated four opponents in 2011, including Branch, who finished third.

click to enlargeCorey Branch - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER

  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Corey Branch

In 2013, with Branch not in the field, Weeks won re-election with 80 percent of the vote.

Thus, Branch, running head-to-head against Weeks this time, is in an uphill fight. He’s raised just $11,000 to Weeks’ $31,000, which doesn’t bode well.

Branch acknowledges the difficulty of the task. To catch Weeks, he says, he’s visiting churches, reaching out to homeowners associations and pounding the pavement.

“We’ve had the same [system] for many years. I’m different,” he says. “I’m not hand-picked by anyone.”

The district is changing, too, Branch insists. A new generation of blacks and whites is emerging. Some, like him, were born in District C. Others are newcomers, drawn by available land and affordable housing prices. (Tomasulo lives in District C, albeit not far from Oakwood, the booming downtown part.)

Branch is an electrical engineer, a North Carolina A&T graduate who “manages a network delivery team for a global customer.” Whatever the customer needs, his team delivers it, he explains.

That makes him an example, he says, of District C’s unrecognized but growing economic diversity. He and his wife, a teacher, could’ve moved to a more upscale neighborhood. But his roots in Southeast Raleigh are deep. So is his commitment to the community, which he dates to his time at Ligon Middle School, where he was student body president. (Fun fact: Bonner Gaylord was in the same class.) He was active in politics at A&T and, for the last 15 years, in Alpha Phi Alpha, a service fraternity that mentors black youths.

In other words, Branch has been an aspiring leader since he was a teenager. And since running four years ago, he’s become a transportation expert, serving on the Raleigh Transportation Authority, which oversees local buses, and this year on the Wake County Transit Advisory Committee, which is trying to hash out a plan that will persuade voters to approve a half-cent sales tax for transit.

For months, Branch has been moving around the city explaining the process and collecting input. When we talked, he rattled off a list—by number—of busy bus routes that run through Southeast Raleigh, and he told me a startling fact: 70 percent of Raleigh’s bus riders live in his district, including many who don’t have cars and need reliable buses to get to their jobs.

That’s why the transit plan must, in his view, improve the frequency of service on Southeast Raleigh routes and improve their shaky on-time performance. He wants more bus shelters. City staff says there’s no more money. Branch thinks it’s the job of the District C representative to find the money.

Still, Branch doesn’t criticize Weeks directly. “He’s a good person,” Branch says without mentioning Weeks’ name. “I hear he’s fighting for Southeast Raleigh. I just don’t know what he’s fighting for.”

On development issues in the rest of the city, Weeks is a reliable vote for developers, seeming to take his cues from Baldwin. Branch might be different on that score.

But we didn’t talk about citywide issues much. His entire focus is on District C and making it, within 20 years, equal to the rest of Raleigh. To do that, he says, residents must get involved.

“If there’s one message I’d like to get out,” he says, “it’s that we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. We need to embrace the future.”

Improving Southeast Raleigh is focus of City Council’s District C race

Taken directly from News & Observer. Read more here:

The two candidates who want to represent Southeast Raleigh on the City Council have different ideas about how to help the area.

Incumbent Eugene Weeks, who has represented District C on the council since 2010, will face challenger Corey Branch in the Oct. 6 race.

Both candidates say the city has neglected Southeast Raleigh. The area has not seen the growth and economic development that other parts of the city have experienced.

Weeks, 75, said he has been pushing for improvements, but the process can be slow.

Branch, 37, said Southeast Raleigh shouldn’t have to wait any longer to catch up.

“Sometimes we’ve looked at the major problems and forgot about the smaller things,” said Branch, who challenged Weeks for a council seat in 2011. He came in third in the race, winning just over 1,200 votes.

Branch has spent his whole life in Southeast Raleigh, except for his time in college at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. He said he has watched businesses leave, emptying shopping plazas.

Now, Branch’s campaign isn’t focusing on keeping Raleigh vibrant or promising smart growth, like candidates in other districts. He simply wants Southeast Raleigh to catch up.

He envisions a place that is appealing to developers and businesses. He’d like to see a major chain grocery store.

Weeks has been an advocate for Southeast Raleigh for more than 20 years. In the early 1980s, when he was a teacher at Broughton High School, he attended City Council meetings to lobby for the neighborhood.

In 2010, the council appointed him to fill the seat left vacant by James West, who became a Wake County commissioner.

As a council member, Weeks doesn’t take unexpected or controversial votes. He likes to take his time on issues, gathering public input along the way.

“The city might not be as fast (as people want), but at least we’re listening,” Weeks said.

He said the key to building up Southeast Raleigh will be convincing investors that the area is ripe for development and business.

“The city is not doing what they can to help promote economic development in Southeast Raleigh,” Weeks said, faulting staff for not touting the potential of undeveloped land.

Affordable and workforce housing is another issue in District C, which also spans East Raleigh.

The city owns dozens of plots of land in the district, and Weeks and Branch both say that land should be used for affordable housing.

But the city needs to be careful not to fill District C with every affordable housing project it takes on, Weeks said.

“We need it,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be confined to certain districts.”

Branch said he was less concerned about where affordable housing is located and more interested in the ways Raleigh will fund and build it.

He said bringing in nonprofits is a good way to help with costs. DHIC, the nonprofit that redeveloped Walnut Terrace, has also started the process of revamping Washington Terrace, an affordable housing community in East Raleigh.

But projects are still too expensive, poorly located and burden the city’s low-income population, Branch said.

The recently redeveloped Walnut Terrace, which has income-based and market rate units, starts its market-based rent at $775 a month.

“$700 a month is a lot of money for people making $30,000 a year,” Branch said.

Mechelle Hankerson: 919-829-4802@mechelleh

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