Getting to Know Mayor Baldwin

(The Triangle Trend) — Raleigh’s mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin was elected to office this time last year. At the beginning of 2020, she said that the most daunting challenge on the docket was reaching a consensus on essential zoning changes related to an affordable housing project.

Not even close.

Of course, no one could have foreseen the havoc the pandemic would wreak, or the social unrest generated by the call for social justice. As Baldwin tells it, whether it was face coverings or curfews, you were either too early or too late. She eventually realized that you have to follow your gut and do what you believe. And, while you have no choice but to focus on the short-term in the charged environment of 2020, you cannot lose sight of the future. People are still moving to Raleigh, and you have to continue to prepare for growth.

Additionally, Baldwin said that school shutdowns and the transition to remote learning exposed the lack of equity in public education. While wealthy communities were well-resourced, those in lower-income areas suffered. Baldwin wants to see this gap closed. She also noted that we must continue to focus on ensuring equity across other areas of public interest, like housing and the workforce. Baldwin stated, “Kids cannot be what they cannot see.”

But when did Baldwin first “see” herself in public service? At two or three years of age, Baldwin, who grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, remembers accompanying her father on his annual November pilgrimage to vote. Unlike today, voting booths at the time were cramped and claustrophobia-inducing. After entering it, you would pull the curtain behind you to ensure privacy. It was dark and foreboding, and to the young Baldwin it was downright scary. But that fear eventually turned to inspiration. Baldwin’s father was a gadfly of the community, endlessly challenging the status quo and urging public leaders to do their jobs. He was a continual thorn in the side of local leaders, needling, challenging, and demanding action. It served as a lesson on the importance and meaning of public service.

At fifteen, Baldwin volunteered to assist on George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. Though McGovern’s run for office did not end well, Baldwin gleaned valuable experience. That campaign was followed by one closer to home when she became a volunteer in the Pawtucket mayoral race.

As her experience in public service grew, so did her passion. But Baldwin was not done learning. When she graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in Journalism, she was determined to pursue a non-biased, politics-free career path. This would allow her to contribute as a member of the fourth estate, keeping public servants honest and following in her father’s gadfly footsteps, albeit more formally.

With her journalistic credentials at the ready, she moved to New York after taking a position with Gannett Publishing. She married and started a family but thought often about making a quality-of-life change. Familiarity with the Raleigh/Durham area made the decision easy. That was thirty-one years ago. For Baldwin, even though she grew up in Pawtucket and worked in and around the NY-Metro area, Raleigh is home.

Driven by her passion for Raleigh and her father’s encouragement some twelve years ago, Baldwin rejoined public service. First as a member of the Raleigh Town Council, then more recently when she threw her hat in the ring for mayor. Baldwin talked about timing and opportunity being critical when it comes to local government, and though her late father wasn’t around to see her take the oath of office last December, Baldwin reiterated that she is where she is and is doing what she is doing because of her father.

Baldwin does not mince words when asked if she has any political aspirations beyond her tenure as Raleigh Mayor. “Hell no,” she answers with a laugh. But do not let that response misinform you of her intentions. She wants to accomplish important things for the capital city she loves and likes to have less bureaucracy and fewer obstacles in the way while she does.

When her father took her hand and led her to the voting booth for the first time all those years ago, she was scared. She learned then as she knows now that public service is not for the faint of heart. She also learned that nothing makes her happier than making a difference, something she has been doing for most of her life. Seeing is believing you can.

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