Mayor Nancy McFarlane announced Wednesday that she will not seek a fifth term.
During her time as mayor, McFarlane has led the city through explosive growth onto dozens of “best-of” lists.
Raleigh strengthened its reputation “as one of the best places to live, work and play in the county,” according to a news release Wednesday morning.
As mayor, the release continued, McFarlane has worked to expand public transit, increase affordable housing, update the city’s land-use rules, protect the environment, support small business and entrepreneurs, and “champion the arts.”
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But within the past year, the eight-person city board has become fractured, with McFarlane increasingly on the minority side.
“We used to fight together for the things we cared about,” she said in a video. “Now it just seems like we fight with each other. The mean politics of Twitter and social media is painful when it’s about you or someone you love. This social disease has exploded since I first ran for city council in 2007. Raleigh politics could use a reset.”
“Are you still working on the things that are important to you,” she asked in the video, “and are you doing them in a way that makes your neighbor proud?”
McFarlane has been a politician who often shuns politics.
She prefers to work behind-the-scenes to wrangle council members toward consensus.
McFarlane was a leader in the city’s purchase of Dorothea Dix Park and the recently unveiled plan to make it “a world-class destination park to be enjoyed by the public for generations to come,” according to her news release.
She was first elected to the Raleigh City Council in 2007 and served two terms before being elected mayor in 2011. She is the second woman to be mayor in Raleigh’s history.
“Mayor Nancy McFarlane has had an outstanding tenure as mayor these past eight years, always being a steady hand and reasonable voice at the City Council table” said former Mayor Charles Meeker. He supported McFarlane in her initial mayoral bid. “She certainly will be remembered most for acquiring Dix Park and receiving the master plan, which was just approved.”
McFarlane supported the creation of the Raleigh Union Station in downtown, the passage of Raleigh’s transportation bonds and numerous transit projects. The council voted to increase the property tax rate to raise funds for affordable housing and the city has spent millions to build more affordable housing apartments and homes.
A life-long champion of the arts, she helped make the case for the arts as an economic driver to boost tourism and support the city’s artistic scene.
“I am going to focus on the things that really matter to me; my family, the community, the arts and the parks,” she said in the release.
Efforts to reach McFarlane on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
With fewer allies on the council, the past year has been a trying one for McFarlane.
She faced her toughest re-election bid in 2017 after narrowly beating Raleigh attorney Charles Francis in a run-off election. Francis confirmed Wednesday he intended to run again.
That election also solidified a growth-cautious majority on the board with Council member Stef Mendell defeating then incumbent Bonner Gaylord. In recent years the council has steadily moved from a growth-friendly to a slow-growth council. Some members of that new majority — Mendell, David Cox, Kay Crowder, Russ Stephenson and Dickie Thompson — have balked at the slow-growth moniker, saying they are smart-growth and pro-neighborhood.
Since then McFarlane has sparred with council members on a score of issues, occasionally growing visibly frustrated during some council meetings.
Some of the differences touched on how the city should grow including whether to allow short-term rentals like Airbnb and backyard cottages throughout the city.
Others have involved transportation including this past summer when McFarlane told council members to “stop misleading the public” about the widening of the Falls of Neuse.
“We need to put aside the political divisions on this council and move ahead,” McFarlane said at the time. “Part of that is moving to the next challenge when one has been answered. That is the case with the widening of Falls of Neuse. It is time for those who seem to want to advance their own agendas, or perhaps simply don’t understand how the city works with the state, to stop misleading the public.”
Most recently, Raleigh City Council member Kay Crowder told The News & Observer she was “verbally and physically assaulted” by McFarlane’s husband at the Raleigh Convention Center on Feb. 6 during a community meeting unveiling the Dix Park Master Plan.
The mayor later apologized for the incident, saying her husband was stressed about McFarlane’s recent surgery and upset that she had not been given credit that night, as other council members had, for her work on the park.