Nancy McFarlane’s election to a fourth term as Raleigh mayor didn’t come easily.
McFarlane had a two-round battle with challenger Charles Francis in an unusual race that highlighted partisan tensions and voters’ concerns about the city’s poorest residents. She didn’t win a majority of the vote in the October election, so Francis called for a runoff.
On Tuesday, McFarlane won 57.79 percent of the vote while Francis won 42.21 percent.
Here are some takeaways from McFarlane’s victory:
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Split down the middle
McFarlane said Tuesday night that her first order of business in her term will be to reach out to the voters with whom Francis’ frustration resonated most.
During his campaign, Francis focused on the city’s need for more affordable housing and said many residents have been left behind as the rest of Raleigh has enjoyed growth and success.
“I think there were a lot of good issues raised during the campaign, and I think it’s important, once the election is over, to move forward and work very hard to bring people in the city back together,” McFarlane said.
The election results show a sharp divide along geographic, socio-economic and racial lines. McFarlane won the western half of the city, except for one 11-vote precinct in northwest Raleigh. Francis won the entire eastern side of the city, flipping the lone northeastern district that had gone for McFarlane in the first round.
Many of the eastern precincts, particularly those in Southeast Raleigh where Francis had the biggest leads, are predominantly African-American and among the poorest areas of the city.
When an incumbent wins, it’s generally taken as a sign that voters want to see business continue as usual.
McFarlane has led Raleigh through major growth since she was first elected mayor in 2011. Downtown has seen plenty of new development, including restaurants and apartments, and the city has plans to increase bus service as it focuses more on public transit.
“It’s heartwarming to know most of the city does appreciate the value of the work we’ve done,” McFarlane said Tuesday night.
Endorsements and political influencers appeared to play a larger-than-usual role in the race.
McFarlane, an unaffiliated voter who supports a progressive agenda, didn’t win the endorsement this year of the Wake County Democratic Party. The party endorsed Francis, a registered Democrat.
But former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, endorsed McFarlane. And Charles Hellwig, chairman of the Wake County Republican Party, threw a curve ball when he announced he would vote for Francis.
McFarlane’s campaign criticized Francis for accepting donations from prominent Republicans who had supported anti-LGBTQ legislation. After endorsing both candidates ahead of the October election, LBGTQ advocacy group Equality NC revoked its endorsement of Francis because of his ties to certain Republicans.
McFarlane partly attributed the race’s tone, which she called “divisive,” to fallout from last year’s presidential election.
It’s clear McFarlane saw Francis as a viable threat who had the political and business connections to raise money.
McFarlane and Francis together spent just shy of $600,000 and raised closer to $700,000.
Two years ago, McFarlane’s campaign spent $99,000 on her re-election bid.
Time will tell if this election marks a shift toward more high-dollar mayoral races in Raleigh.
More people cast ballots for mayor in the runoff election Tuesday than in the October round.
Turnout improved from 52,880 to 54,450. That’s up from about 36,000 votes cast in 2015’s mayoral race.
But in 2001, the last time Raleigh had a runoff for mayor, 50,280 votes were cast at a time when the city was 150,000 people smaller than it is now.
City Council changes
Raleigh’s mayor is one of eight voting members of the City Council, which has a couple new members who were elected in October.
The new council might not be so friendly to developers, especially since Stef Mendell unseated Bonner Gaylord in District E. Mendell ran on a pro-neighborhood platform.
Here’s another change: Half of the council seats will be filled by women.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan