Growth issues drive McFarlane in Raleigh mayoral race

Staff WriterSeptember 19, 2011 

  • Age: 55 (Born July 20, 1956)

    Occupation: Pharmacist, President/CEO of MedPro Rx

    Education: Bachelor of Science in pharmacy, Medical College of Virginia

    Political affiliation, experience: Unaffiliated. Four years on the Raleigh City Council, where she chaired the Comprehensive Planning Committee and served on the Budget and Economic Development Committee.

    Civic activities, other affiliations: Upper Neuse River Basin Association; Raleigh Arts Commission and United Arts Council; Stormwater Utility Advisory Commission; Substance Abuse Advisory Commission; Environmental Advisory Board; Water Utility Transition Advisory Council; Sierra Club; N.C. Conservation Network; Wake County PTA Council, vice president; Sanderson Area Advisory Council; Durant Road Middle School PTA, vice president; PTA Member, 1988-2008; Ligon Arts Booster, president; Greystone Homeowners Association, president; Women on Board, Steering Committee; Women's Forum of North Carolina; Wake County Public Schools, City Council liaison; Pharmacy Foundation of NC at University of North Carolina, board of directors.

    Contact information: 919-322-0239; 5932-A Six Forks Road, Raleigh, NC 27612

    Why should you be elected?:

    "I have the business experience and a track record on council working to make Raleigh the best place to live and work in the country. I will keep Raleigh innovative and moving forward."

    Your first act in office:

    "I will make sure that the small business office that I established in City Hall is running effectively, and that the city is working to continue to improve our strong economy."

  • Future of Dix property

    At issue: The city and state have negotiated for years over the future of the Dorothea Dix mental health property near downtown. Some want the land reinvented as Raleigh's version of Central Park, with trails, sitting areas and outdoor gathering spots.

    A debate centers on whether to set aside some land for private development to generate money for the park.

    Where she stands: McFarlane wants to preserve all 306 acres as open space, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    She says the price to acquire the land from the state could range from $10 million to $100 million. She has not offered specifics on where the money would come from.

    Public safety center

    At issue: The proposed 17-story Lightner Center would offer space for fire, police, emergency communications and information technology departments in a downtown plot that borders Nash Square.

    Raleigh leaders remain divided amid criticism over the price tag, which could surpass $205 million.

    Where she stands: McFarlane voted in favor of moving forward with planning for a new center. She said the city was trying to take advantage of financing rates that had fallen to all-time lows.

    McFarlane now says lingering economic turmoil has caused her to reconsider. She would be open to putting the public safety center on the ballot for a referendum.

    Expanded transit options

    At issue: Raleigh grew by 50 percent over the past 10 years and is expected add another 100,000 people by 2020. Roads cannot handle the influx, traffic planners say.

    Where she stands: McFarlane supports a proposed $40 million transportation bond that includes sidewalks, bike lanes, greenways, road resurfacing projects and new bus shelters.

    She also favors expanded bus service and a regional rail system. She supports holding a referendum in 2012 on a 1-cent sales tax to pay for these improvements.

    "Although this is primarily a regional issue, Raleigh must show strong leadership," she said.

Editor's note: This is the first of three profiles of Raleigh's mayoral candidates. Look for profiles of Billie Redmond and Randall Williams in coming Monday editions.

RALEIGH -- Long before she helped devise stormwater policies and development regulations on the Raleigh City Council, Nancy McFarlane served as room mother for her daughter's kindergarten class.

It was an unlikely starting point for an ascent into city politics. But for McFarlane, chaperoning field trips and setting up classroom art stations marked the first steps on a path that would lead to higher pursuits.

More than two decades later, McFarlane finds herself as the political veteran in a mayoral race that pits her against a pair of first-time candidates, real estate firm CEO Billie Redmond and physician Randall Williams.

Count McFarlane among those most surprised by the evolution. The pharmacist and mother of three says she didn't set out to pursue elected office, much less the city's top job.

"The more involved I became, the more I realized how important it was for people to take responsibility," she said. "I didn't think that was anything I could step away from."

The role in daughter Katie's class at Brooks Elementary blossomed into leadership posts with the PTA and, later, a four-year stint as president of the homeowners' association at Greystone, a 2,000-resident development in North Raleigh.

In 2007, McFarlane made her official entry into Raleigh politics, unseating City Council District A incumbent Tommy Craven by a 55-to-45 percent margin.

Now, in her pursuit of the mayor's office, McFarlane points to her work as a school and neighborhood volunteer, saying she learned how to be a good listener at the grassroots level, where people are more concerned with solving problems than notching political victories.

An eye on growth

McFarlane says her views on development were shaped by her experiences growing up in Arlington, Va., a Washington, D.C., suburb known for its congested roads and severe sprawl.

"I know what large, poorly planned growth can do to an area," she told a forum audience of 150 people last week.

After joining the Greystone HOA, McFarland went to work convincing Raleigh to impose tighter rules on development. Neighbors in Greystone were upset about silt washing into their backyards from nearby construction sites and newly developed areas.

"The lakes were getting to the point where the geese were walking across them in some parts," McFarlane said.

"I felt it wasn't fair for all this private development to be taking place, and for the residents to bear the brunt of the cleanup," she said. "Our roads were getting washed out. It was just this unending cycle."

McFarlane kept a low profile as she worked to address neighbors' concerns, said Gordon Archambault, a member of the lakes and grounds committee on the Greystone board.

"Unless you hung the title 'mayor' around her neck, most people would think she was just one of the people there," he said. "She's not going to come in and give a fiery oratory. She's going to listen to you."

A progressive record

McFarlane took office in 2007 as part of the "Meeker majority," a group of progressive-minded newcomers who supported Mayor Charles Meeker and pledged to change how Raleigh pays for growth.

With McFarlane's support, the City Council quickly increased the impact fees Raleigh charges developers for new building projects. They imposed tighter rules on stormwater.

McFarlane has generally supported Meeker's progressive agenda, centered on downtown revitalization, mass transit, parks and greenways and environmental protection.

Meeker earned praise for revitalizing downtown as a hub for business, nightlife and restaurants. But some critics said he paid too little attention to other parts of Raleigh.

McFarlane is quick to praise Meeker as a "great leader," but said she would spend more time reaching out to various constituencies and broadening the city's focus beyond downtown.

In that effort, McFarlane's background as a neighborhood advocate will be valuable, said Roxie Cash, a longtime friend and former Wake County school board member.

"I don't believe she will get caught up in talking to only large groups of people," Cash said.

Life as CEO

An interest in science pushed McFarlane toward a career in the health care field. She earned a degree from Virginia Commonwealth University's pharmacy school at the Medical College of Virginia.

McFarlane spent 15 years at Raleigh Community Hospital before launching MedPro Rx, a company that provides infusion medications and services to clients with chronic illnesses.

The business fills a niche in the industry, providing treatments for rare blood disorders such as hemophilia, autoimmune neuro-muscular and rheumatologic disorders and Hepatitis C.

McFarlane's husband, Ron, also works for MedPro Rx, helping run the business while his wife tends to campaign duties.

On a recent weekday afternoon, McFarlane was accompanied by a reporter as she drove around the city with a campaign aide, visiting the owners of a coffee shop, auto repair garage and barber shop.

Known for her quiet, soft-spoken demeanor, McFarlane says she's grown more comfortable speaking in front of big groups. But she likes to convene people in smaller, more intimate settings to learn about their concerns.

"I spend a lot of time researching and analyzing issues before the meetings," McFarlane told The News & Observer in a 2008 interview. "If I can get my questions answered beforehand, I will. A lot of what I do at the table is listen."

mgarfield@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4952

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