The three candidates for mayor are hitting the campaign trail with different ideas about how Raleigh should spend taxpayers’ money and set priorities such as parks and affordable housing.
Nancy McFarlane, an unaffiliated voter who is seeking her fourth term as mayor, for the first time faces a Democratic challenger – attorney Charles Francis. Paul Fitts, a Republican, is also running.
Francis, who won an endorsement from the Wake County Democratic Party and has raised more money than McFarlane, is critical of the mayor’s leadership, particularly on issues of equity.
“The lack of inclusion and the lack of respect from this mayor is palpable,” Francis, 54, said during an event Tuesday hosted by the Triangle Board of Realtists, a real-estate trade association. “That’s been the real conflict I’ve had with these pseudo-liberal Democrats. What’s important to them is bike lanes and parks and that kind of thing. What we have in mind is more basic.”
The City Council races are nonpartisan, but party affiliation could play a role in the Oct. 10 election. This is the first time McFarlane hasn’t had the support of the Wake County Democratic Party.
Fitts is a lesser-known candidate but has the support of the Wake County Republican Party. The 48-year-old mortgage lender ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the City Council in 2011 and for a seat on the Wake County Board of Commissioners in 2012.
Raleigh’s City Council recently agreed to set aside about $5.7 million a year for new affordable housing and has worked with state and federal programs to preserve affordable-housing units. But Francis said he felt McFarlane’s response to the problem has not been equal to its growing scope.
In an interview, McFarlane said her three terms as mayor have taught her that the job requires the ability to balance a wide variety of interests, including parks, bike lanes and other quality-of-life measures.
“It’s easy to pick out one thing and say, ‘You haven’t spent enough time on this,’ ” said McFarlane, 61. “But a big part of Raleigh’s success has been creating this place people want to live. Everybody’s moving here, and quality of life is what’s driving that, what brings businesses here.”
McFarlane also defended the city’s plan to spend upwards of $160 million on a new city government complex, which Francis calls the “Taj Mahal City Hall.”
“It’s always a more complex story than it comes across in campaigns,” McFarlane said. “What people are not looking at is the savings of selling off other buildings, centralizing employees so they’re more productive and save the city money.”
Fitts has made the city’s debt the central issue of his campaign. He said the city is spending too much on “wants, not needs” and not enough on the salaries of police officers and firefighters.
Francis’ campaign had about $91,000 on hand through the end of August, according to finance reports filed with the Board of Elections. McFarlane had about $62,000. Fitts had $97.50 and said this week that he’d raised upwards of $2,000 since then.
McFarlane, who founded a pharmaceutical company before being elected to the City Council in 2007, has seen her margin of victory grow since she was first elected mayor in 2011. She garnered 61 percent of the vote in 2011 against two Republicans, 72 percent in 2013 against a Republican and an unaffiliated candidate, and 74 percent against a Republican in 2015.
Francis, who grew up in Southeast Raleigh, said he hopes voters from that district will cast ballots this fall.
“There are 80,000 black voters in Raleigh,” Francis said at Tuesday’s forum. “McFarlane normally wins with 25,000 to 30,000 votes. If only a quarter of African-American voters vote – and vote the right way – we’re going to win.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan