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.”

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