McFarlane wins Raleigh mayor's race

matt.garfield@newsobserver.comOctober 11, 2011 

— With 106 of 107 precincts reporting, Raleigh mayoral candidate Nancy McFarlane has 61 percent of the vote to turn back opponents Billie Redmond and Randall Williams.

Raleigh voters eleted McFarlane as the city's first new mayor in a decade after the departure of Charles Meeker, who did not seek re-election to a sixth term.

McFarlane supporters are gathering at Tir Na Nog Irish pub downtown, where they will celebrate the results.

The Redmond campaign was hosting an election-night party at the Contemporary Art Museum in the warehouse district downtown.

Meanwhile, Williams is riding the streets with Raleigh police. The physician and first-time candidate scheduled a ride-along as a way to thank officers who looked out for him when he jogged through their districts during his recent early-morning workouts.

McFarlane will lead the City Council in trying to hash out standards for the look and feel of new development, turn Dorothea Dix Hospital into a signature park and reach accord on a new public safety center.

These decisions will be made against the backdrop of a lingering economic downturn that has forced Raleigh officials to cope with limited resources while demand for services grows.

McFarlane positioned herself as a supporter of Meeker's vision and style, while Redmond and Williams, both Republicans, talked about the need to control spending in a tough economy.

Today's election decided who will sit in more than half the council's seats.

Five of eight races were contested, a rarity among recent elections, which often found incumbents swept to re-election unopposed.

The election also marked the first time in a decade that Meeker's name did not appear on the ballot, and the races in some ways stood as a referendum on how Meeker steered the city.

Meeker announced in May that he wouldn't seek re-election to a sixth consecutive term. Some voters said Tuesday that they appreciated Meeker's unassuming nature.

"I like the low-key style Meeker always had," said Elaine Gordon, who voted at Daniels Middle School. "He's not a show horse."

McFarlane will tackle some thorny issues, including some that have divided previous councils. Here's a look at debates expected to unfold over the next two years:

Public safety center

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. City leaders remain divided amid criticism over the price tag, which could surpass $205 million. The city already has spent more than $20 million on planning and design of the building.

The four council members who oppose construction of the tower do so for different reasons.

Among the top unresolved concerns: The building's location, whether information technology and the 911 center should be in the same building as police and fire, and whether the city should renovate the old police headquarters.

New development code

The city's Comprehensive Plan provides a planning blueprint for the next 20 years. But the council will need to approve a reformed zoning and development code, known as the unified development ordinance, or UDO, to ensure that developers stay true to the vision. A draft has circulated since early April.

Questions piled up as more neighbors and business people reviewed the document, prompting the city to delay a final decision until next year.

Dix property

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. Each of the three mayoral candidates supported preserving the entire 306 acres as a destination park.

The challenge will be finding a way to work with the state to acquire the land.

Garfield: 919-836-4952

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