Raleigh voters will likely return to the polls next month to elect a mayor.
With all precincts reporting, incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane leads challenger Charles Francis by about 6,200 votes. But it wasn’t enough to win a majority that is required to avoid the possibility of a runoff Nov. 7.
McFarlane won about 48.45 percent of the 52,449 votes cast, while Francis won about 36.67 percent. A third candidate, Paul Fitts, won about 14.76 percent.
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McFarlane, an unaffiliated candidate who is seeking her fourth two-year term, has won easily in the past, garnering more than 61 percent of the vote in 2011, 72 percent in 2013 and 74 percent in 2015.
But this is the first time McFarlane has faced a Democratic challenger. She has been endorsed by the Wake County Democratic Party in previous elections for mayor, but this year the party backed Francis, a registered Democrat.
Francis raised more money than McFarlane, bringing in $231,000, including a $19,000 personal loan. McFarlane raised $202,000, including a $50,000 personal loan. That compares to the $100,000 she spent on her re-election bid two years ago.
Fitts, who was backed by the Wake County Republican Party, did not raise money for his campaign.
On Tuesday night, Francis said he was encouraged by the results and was waiting for all the ballots to be counted. He declined to say whether he would call for a runoff if results held.
“Voters from all over Raleigh were energized by our message that people in Raleigh can do better for all people,” Francis said.
McFarlane said she hopes a runoff would serve to unify Raleigh.
“If there is a runoff, I hope it’s not a divisive ‘fight,’ as (Francis) called it, because that’s not good for the community,” she said. “It’s about bringing Raleigh together to make it a better place, and that’s what I think I’ve done for the last 10 years.”
For the past three terms as mayor, McFarlane has led the city through a post-recession boom highlighted by downtown revitalization and new development. She says her greatest accomplishment as mayor has been her negotiations with state leaders to buy Dix Park, a sprawling green space off of Western Boulevard.
Francis, a 54-year-old attorney who grew up in Southeast Raleigh, was critical of McFarlane during the campaign, saying her leadership lacked in strength and transparency. He says the city needs to do more to help its poorest residents by building more affordable housing.
If he is elected, Francis will be the city’s second black mayor. Clarence Lightner served a single term from 1973-75. During the campaign, Francis urged African-American voters to cast ballots, especially in Southeast Raleigh.
Early returns showed that Francis won most precincts throughout the eastern part of the city. In one Southeast Raleigh precinct, he won more than 87 percent of votes cast.
McFarlane targeted North Raleigh precincts in an effort to give her an edge, said campaign spokesman Perry Woods. Early returns showed that she won much of the western half of the city, including several North Raleigh precincts as well as several inside-the-Beltline precincts.
Throughout the campaign, Francis presented himself as a native son who would work to boost affordable housing and reject a plan to spend millions of dollars on a new city government complex.
After earning a law degree from Duke University, he worked for a year as a federal prosecutor and then served on the city’s planning commission for a year before he was appointed to a seat on the City Council in 1993. He lost a subsequent bid for an elected term. He is a founding director of North State Bank and runs the Francis Law Firm.
McFarlane, 61, grew up near Washington, D.C., earned a pharmacy degree and ran a successful pharmaceutical business for years. She became mayor in 2011 after two terms on Raleigh’s City Council.
Some voters said they were pleased with McFarlane’s leadership. Jessie White, a 26-year-old political consultant who lives near N.C. State University, said she doesn’t necessarily oppose Francis so much as she thinks McFarlane deserves another term.
“From Dix Park to tackling our transportation challenges, she has kept Raleigh on a strong path forward,” White said. “I’m also very appreciative of her commitment to sustainability and working towards renewable energy goals for our city.”
But some said they were ready for change. DeAntony Collins, 33, supported Francis this year after voting for McFarlane in the last election. Collins, who works in early education, said Francis will do more to keep housing costs down.
“She has done fine, but he gets it,” Collins said. “He understands that some of us are treading water, wanting to do better but lacking many opportunities.”
Danny Manning, 71, voted Tuesday at John Chavis Memorial Park in Southeast Raleigh, where Francis had urged minority voters to cast ballots.
“I like his agenda, and I think he’s a fair man,” Manning said. “We need some new faces. I’ve always said, politicians shouldn’t stay in office too long. We need a new agenda, some fresh ideas.”
Fitts: 14.76 percent
Francis: 36.67 percent
McFarlane: 48.45 percent
108 of 108 precincts reporting