After a contentious campaign season that led to a runoff, Raleigh voters decided to stick with Nancy McFarlane and elected her on Tuesday to a fourth term as the city’s mayor.
McFarlane won 57.79 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting results. Raleigh lawyer Charles Francis won 42.21 percent of the vote.
This has been the most competitive race of McFarlane’s political career. She was first elected to the Raleigh City Council in 2007 and became mayor four years later.
McFarlane, an unaffiliated candidate, won easily in previous mayoral elections, but she failed to get a majority of the vote in last month’s general election. Francis, a Democratic attorney and businessman who finished second in the three-candidate race, called for a runoff.
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The race took on what McFarlane and her supporters considered a negative tone, with squabbling among Democrats and questions about party loyalty.
“I think a lot of the divisiveness really bothered people,” McFarlane said Tuesday night. “I think the results say what Raleigh has always really valued, and that is how we work together in a collaborative way. We’ve never had elections that were this deep, partisan divide. I don’t think that rang true with voters.”
McFarlane had the backing of the Wake County Democratic Party in previous elections. But this year the party endorsed Francis, whose campaign focused on the need for more affordable housing and services for the city’s poorest residents.
In response, McFarlane highlighted the city’s latest affordable-housing initiatives and touted its growth and efforts to turn Dix Park into a regional destination.
On Tuesday night, Francis said he called McFarlane to congratulate her on the win, and she asked if he would continue to be part of community conversations.
“While we might not have won the race, tonight was a victory for inclusion,” Francis said. He thanked his supporters “who rejected the conventional wisdom that everything is all right when it is not all right.”
More than 54,450 voters cast ballots in the race Tuesday, up from about 53,000 in the Oct. 10 general election.
In that election, McFarlane won 48.40 percent of the vote, Francis won 36.75 percent, and a third candidate, Republican Paul Fitts, won 14.74 percent. Five days later, Francis announced he was calling for a runoff.
Early returns Tuesday showed that voters were split along the same geographic, racial and socio-economic lines that emerged in the first election. The election map Tuesday night was nearly identical to the precinct-level results from the general election.
Francis again won every precinct on the eastern side of the city. His highest margins of victory were in Southeast Raleigh precincts, most of which are majority African-American. McFarlane won all but one precinct on the western side of the city.
Over the past month, McFarlane and Francis have sparred on spending priorities, leadership style and party affiliation.
Francis accused McFarlane of neglecting the needs of Raleigh’s most vulnerable residents and focusing too much on parks and other amenities, including plans for a new City Hall. He said McFarlane should be more forceful in speaking out about certain issues.
Some people criticized Francis for accepting campaign money from prominent Republican leaders, including former state senator Fred Smith. Equality NC, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, revoked its endorsement of Francis.
McFarlane criticized him for attending a meeting of the Wake County Republican Party, and Francis highlighted her unwillingness to commit to a party label.
Despite the tensions, some voters said they found both candidates competent and likable.
“There are no losers, because they are both very good candidates,” said Elaine Wood, who cast her ballot at Root Elementary School off of Lassiter Mill Road. “Whoever wins, we’re very fortunate.”
Janice Ryan, a freelance writer who lives in Brier Creek, said McFarlane has done good work for the city and should be rewarded with the chance to see it through.
“When I did a little research on (Francis), it seemed he was all about affordable housing,” said Ryan, 54. “It’s an important issue, but I felt like he was laser focused on that and not on other issues.”
James Patterson, 57, a retired truck driver from Southeast Raleigh, said he voted for Francis because he thinks his neighborhood has been ignored. He wants the city to help create jobs for local residents by keeping community centers open later.
“Pay (workers) for those extra hours so kids will have something to do,” Patterson said.
This is the first time since 2001 that a Raleigh mayoral election has gone to a runoff. That year, Democrat Charles Meeker unseated Republican Paul Coble.
McFarlane and Francis spent a total of more than $575,000 on their campaigns this year, a sign of the competitive nature of the race.
McFarlane’s campaign raised $366,000 and spent $308,000, according to finance reports filed with the Wake County Board of Elections. She loaned herself $110,000 of that sum. Francis raised $326,000, loaning himself $19,500, and spent $270,000.
Two years ago, McFarlane raised $126,000 for her re-election bid.
On Tuesday, McFarlane said her fourth term as mayor would likely be her last.
“But never say never,” she said.