Paul Fitts, a Republican running for mayor, says he wants to slash city spending.
Fitts, a 48-year-old mortgage broker who grew up in Wake County, has not raised money for his campaign against incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane and attorney Charles Francis. But he’s been knocking on doors and putting up yard signs ahead of Tuesday’s election.
“I’d rather people keep their own money than send it to me,” Fitts said.
Raleigh City Council elections are nonpartisan, but party affiliation is often a factor, particularly when it comes to endorsements. The Wake County Republican Party is backing Fitts. McFarlane is an unaffiliated voter, and Francis is a Democrat who won an endorsement from the Wake County Democratic Party.
Fitts knows it can be tough for a Republican to win the mayor’s seat in Raleigh. The city hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 2001. But he’s confident voters are hearing his message about the city’s debt and spending habits.
“I’m the ‘R’ word,” Fitts said, referring to Republicans. “It is tough. But no one was going to talk about these issues of debt unless I brought it up.”
Raleigh has maintained a AAA credit rating by Moody’s and Standard & Poor since 1974. Under state law, a city’s debt cannot exceed 8 percent of its total taxable property valuation. In June 2016, Raleigh’s debt was less than 1 percent.
But Fitts said the city budget “needs to be streamlined.” He is not in favor of building a multimillion-dollar city government complex downtown. That money would be better spent on fixing roads and replacing broken water and sewer lines, he said.
If elected mayor, Fitts said he would give up his office in City Hall if it meant the money would go toward infrastructure improvements.
“Fine, I’ll work from my car,” he said. “I don’t have to have a pretty office.”
Fitts emphasizes his support for the city’s first responders and says he sees police officers as a key voting bloc for him, especially after recent controversies over wages and benefits. On social media, he compared local first responders to victims of domestic violence.
Their abuser? City Hall.
“There comes a time when abused spouses have to ask themselves ... when is enough, enough?” Fitts wrote on Facebook. “#FirstResponders please do not fall for the, ‘baby I’m sorry, and I’ll never do it again’ routine. This is continual abuse from a disrespectful council.”
To raise pay for police officers and firefighters, Fitts said the city could cut just about anything else from its budget.
He says he also wants to cut the size of city departments and stop giving taxpayer dollars to nonprofit groups. This year, Raleigh is giving nonprofits nearly $933,000.
“If we have to cut people, we have to cut people,” Fitts said. “We have to look at what’s not necessary and make it trim, tight, lean.”
He said his goal is to keep taxes from going up. He wrote on Facebook last month, “Other candidates want to take your earned money to buy votes. I want to EARN your vote so you can keep YOUR money.”
Of the 15 municipalities that are entirely or in part located in Wake County, 10 have a higher property-tax rate than Raleigh. Raleigh’s tax rate of 42.5 cents per $100 in valuation is also lower than in Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro and Fayetteville.
While Fitts has run a low-key campaign, he gained attention last month when he took to social media to condemn NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Fitts says it’s hypocritical that professional football players have been more vocal about violence committed by police than they have been about domestic violence committed by fellow athletes.
He spoke passionately about the protests in an interview, saying, “I’m not willing to blame police for any amount of wrong unless I see a full investigation.”
After graduating from East Wake High School, Fitts headed to UNC-Pembroke to study theater. He dropped out and worked a few jobs before becoming a mortgage broker almost two decades ago. He says he enjoys helping people become homeowners and gain “a piece of the American dream.”
“It’s the greatest thrill in the world,” he said.
Fitts jokes that his career involves people putting themselves in debt while he’s adamant that government should not have much debt.
“There’s got to be a grownup at the table,” Fitts said. “There’s got to be somebody to say you can’t spend yourself into oblivion.”
Charles Hellwig, chairman of the Wake County Republican Party, said he was grateful Fitts agreed to campaign.
“There weren’t a thousand Republicans lining up to run to be mayor,” he said. “I acknowledge Tuesday is a long shot for us. However, every election is different.”
Staff writer Sarah Nagem contributed.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
Bio: Fitts, 48, is a mortgage lender for TowneBank. He went to East Wake High School and attended UNC-Pembroke to study theater but did not graduate. He and his wife, Joelle Fitts, have been married two years.
Issues: Fitts has centered his campaign around support for low taxes and reduced debt.
Endorsements: Fitts has been endorsed by the Wake County GOP and the Raleigh chapter of the Police Benevolent Association.
Fundraising: Fitts is not raising money for his campaign.