RALEIGH — Voters elected Nancy McFarlane as the next mayor Tuesday, choosing the two-term City Councilwoman over political newcomers Billie Redmond and Randall Williams in the city's first open mayoral race in a decade.
With all precincts reporting, McFarlane had 61 percent of the vote, compared to 30 percent for Redmond and 9 percent for Williams. Redmond called McFarlane to concede the race at 8:20 p.m., a Redmond spokesman said. A short time later, Williams stopped by McFarlane's election-night party to share congratulations.
McFarlane, a pharmacy owner who got her start in politics as a neighborhood leader in North Raleigh, will become the second woman to hold the top job at City Hall. The late Isabella Cannon served as mayor from 1977 to 1979.
After declaring her candidacy in May, McFarlane ran as independent but sought to position herself as the successor to Mayor Charles Meeker, a Democrat and attorney known for championing the resurgence of downtown and pushing the city to invest in parks, greenways and public transit.
The election marked the first time in 10 years that Meeker's name did not appear on the ballot, and the races in some ways stood as a referendum on how he steered the city.
"The thing I've heard the most is that people love Raleigh, they love where we are and they want to stay on the right track going forward," McFarlane said Tuesday evening outside Cameron Village Regional Library, where she stumped for last-minute votes.
At a noisy election night party at Tir Na Nog Irish pub downtown, McFarlane called Tuesday's results "humbling and overwhelming."
Supporters mingled with Democratic Party luminaries, including Meeker, former N.C. Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten and current Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. A swearing-in ceremony for McFarlane will be scheduled for early December.
Redmond said Tuesday night she plans to meet with McFarlane to talk about ways they can work together, possibly by opening an innovation and networking center to spur job growth amid the poor economy.
The three candidates agreed on many topics, Redmond said, including the merits of a park on the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus and the need to scale back plans for a new public safety center downtown.
"The biggest challenge we had is that we were all nice people," Redmond said. "We all sounded alike. Differentiation was the challenge. I told them the other night at a forum, maybe we should just job-share."
Redmond, a real estate executive making her first run for office, raised concerns about the city's $1.38 billion debt - four times the amount it had a decade ago. A former chamber of commerce board chairwoman, Redmond vowed to ease regulations to help Raleigh become the most business-friendly city in the country.
Williams, a physician, highlighted his humanitarian work in Iraq, Haiti and Afghanistan. He talked about using his experience to bring together rival factions.
"It's good for Raleigh that in many ways there was consensus among the three candidates on the major issues," Williams said Tuesday night. "The fact we're able to work together, and conduct a campaign that was worthy of Raleigh, is one reason we're the No. 1 place to live in the United States."
Those who cast ballots for McFarlane said they are satisfied with the city's direction over the past decade.
"She's the person who will be most likely to follow Meeker's lead, and I think Meeker's done a fine job," said Elaine Gordon, who voted at Daniels Middle School on Oberlin Road. "I like the low-key style Meeker always had. He's not a show horse."
The next mayor should carry forward Meeker's vision for expanded mass transit to connect Triangle communities, said voter Judith High, who voted at Our Savior Lutheran Church near Glenwood and Wade avenues.
"I would've liked to see more concrete things done (on transportation)," she said. "We don't have light rail. I'm kind of nervous, now that he's not mayor, that it will slow down."
North Raleigh support
McFarlane fared well in precincts across the city, but posted especially strong numbers in North Raleigh, where she has held the City Council's District A seat since 2008.
A native of Washington, McFarlane spent 15 years as a pharmacist at Raleigh Community Hospital before launching MedPro Rx, a company that provides infusion medications and services to clients with chronic illnesses.
In her pursuit of the mayor's office, McFarlane pointed 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.
McFarlane's first official role in Raleigh public life came when she agreed to serve as a room mother for her daughter's kindergarten class, chaperoning field trips and setting up classroom art stations.
The job 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.
Known for her soft-spoken demeanor, McFarlane says she's grown more comfortable speaking to big groups. But she likes to convene people in smaller, more intimate settings to learn about their concerns.
With McFarlane holding the gavel, the City Council will delve into several thorny issues over the next two-year term.
Among the top items: Settling on standards for the look and feel of new development through passage of a new development code; turning Dorothea Dix Hospital into an urban park, and designing a new public safety center to replace the current, outdated facility.
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 continues to grow.
Standing outside the Cameron Village library on Tuesday, McFarlane said she has grown accustomed to governing in tough times since joining the council in 2008. She expressed admiration for Meeker and pledged to keep the city moving in a similar direction.
"He's done great things over the past 10 years," she said. "I'm honored that he thinks I can lead the city."