Wake County

Democratic Party endorses challenger in Raleigh mayor’s race

The Wake County Democrat Party is not supporting Nancy McFarlane, right, for mayor. The group is instead endorsing attorney Charles Francis, left.
The Wake County Democrat Party is not supporting Nancy McFarlane, right, for mayor. The group is instead endorsing attorney Charles Francis, left. 2015 News & Observer file photo, right and courtesy of Charles Francis

For the first time, the Wake County Democratic Party is not supporting Nancy McFarlane for mayor. The group is instead endorsing attorney Charles Francis.

The party’s executive committee made the decision Monday night, and Francis announced the news in an email Tuesday.

Rebecca Llewellyn, chairwoman of the party, said in an email Tuesday afternoon that the committee believes its “mission should be to elect Democrats to office.”

This is the first time McFarlane, an unaffiliated voter, is facing a Democrat challenger since she became mayor six years ago.

“Charles Francis has been an active member of the party here and he has an admirable record of service to the entire community,” Llewellyn said.

“Mayor McFarlane has been proudly endorsed by the Wake County party in past years, when there was not a viable Democratic candidate in the race,” she continued. “The Mayor has strong support from many Wake County Democrats who appreciate the many good things she has done for the City of Raleigh.”

City Council elections are nonpartisan, so candidates’ party affiliations aren’t listed on the ballot. Local political organizations often endorse candidates, though.

It’s unclear whether the endorsement from the local Democratic Party will help Francis, who was appointed to serve on the council in 1993. Republican Paul Fitts is also running for mayor in the Oct. 10 election.

“I am honored to have the support of the Wake County Democratic Party,” Francis said in a statement. “As a former county party officer, I know party unity is critical to getting out the vote and educating voters about the clear choices our City faces.”

In the 2015 City Council election, Democrats cast twice as many ballots as Republicans and unaffiliated voters combined. More than 18,000 Democrats voted, while Republicans and unaffiliated voters each cast about 8,300 votes.

Through her spokesman, Perry Woods, McFarlane said she’s grateful to have previously received the party’s support and will continue to uphold some of its values. She said she recently held a fundraiser at the home of N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat.

“I will continue to share with the Democratic Party the values of inclusivity, support for public schools, protection of the environment, and economic opportunities for all, and I’m proud of the continued support I have from many Democrats across the city,” McFarlane said in a statement.

She said she believes Raleigh has been successful “in no small part because unlike the federal and state governments, we have been able to rise above partisanship to work together and find solutions.”

McFarlane has won previous elections handily and said she has enough money to finance a winning campaign this year. She founded and sold a specialty pharmaceutical company.

Campaign finance reports show McFarlane raised more money than Francis entering July. But Francis started the month with about $11,000 more than McFarlane, thanks to a $19,400 loan he gave to his campaign committee.

McFarlane raised more than $76,500 but spent some of it before the June 28 disclosure deadline, leaving her with about $64,000. Francis raised about $55,000 and entered July with about $75,000 after writing a check to his campaign.

Francis received $2,000 from Kieran Shanahan, an attorney who briefly worked in former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration. Dean Debnam, a liberal activist who previously supported McFarlane and sued the council last year, said he is backing Francis.

John Kane, the conservative CEO of Kane Realty, donated $2,000 to McFarlane’s campaign.

Several Democrats donated to McFarlane’s campaign, including Wake commissioner Jessica Holmes, state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri and former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker.

“Finances are not going to be an issue in this campaign,” Francis said. “It’s going to be decided on the issues and on the merits of the candidates.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht