Wake County

Longtime Raleigh City Council member Bonner Gaylord won’t call for a runoff election

Raleigh City Council candidates Stef Mendell, left, and Bonner Gaylord.
Raleigh City Council candidates Stef Mendell, left, and Bonner Gaylord. News & Observer file photos

Bonner Gaylord, who has served on the Raleigh City Council for eight years, will not request a runoff election against his challenger.

Gaylord released a statement Thursday evening saying he has worked “to build bridges towards a common purpose” and wants to avoid a divisive fight with top vote-getter Stef Mendell, a political newcomer.

“I have always viewed my role as a listener and a non-partisan consensus builder, serving as a bridge between the left and the right, the conservative and the progressive, newcomers to our city and those who have a long history here,” Gaylord said. “I am afraid that calling for a runoff at this time wouldn’t help build bridges. I fear that it would lead to more division at a time when we need to come together.”

Mendell, who was backed by the Wake County Democratic Party, got 516 more votes than Bonner, an unaffiliated candidate in District E. Because Mendell didn’t win more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election – she won 49.67 percent – Gaylord had the option to call for a runoff election.

Another City Council candidate, political newcomer Stacy Miller, said Thursday he would not call for a runoff against Nicole Stewart, another newcomer, in the race for an at-large seat. That means Stewart will take that seat, which was vacated by longtime council member Mary-Ann Baldwin.

But it’s still unclear if Charles Francis, a candidate for mayor, will call for a runoff against incumbent Nancy McFarlane, who is seeking her fourth term.

Mendell, 63, said Tuesday’s results show that voters are frustrated with growth and traffic in District E, which spans Midtown and northwest Raleigh. She campaigned on a pro-neighborhood platform and criticized Gaylord for his connections to developers.

“A lot of people in the older neighborhoods are concerned about the infill development, where they’re really destroying the character of neighborhoods,” Mendell said. “I won (15) of the 22 precincts in our district. It’s overwhelmingly clear that people want a change.”

District E is the city’s largest electoral district by about 1,000 votes. For years it’s been a prime target for developers who have turned North Hills and Brier Creek into bustling communities with apartments, offices and retail stores.

Mendell, a retired professional who worked in corporate communications and strategy for GlaxoSmithKline, is part of an active group of residents in the district who have pushed for more development regulations and stricter rules that would force developers to pay more to improve the roads. Her campaign’s chief message was that Gaylord and other City Council members have been too easily swayed by developers and not sensitive enough to residents’ concerns.

Gaylord, who won easily in his first four bids for a council seat and was previously backed by the Wake County Democratic Party, is a managing director with North Hills developer Kane Realty.

“It’s no secret that it’s been a more partisan and divisive election, unfortunately, than any other I’ve participated in,” Gaylord said in an interview Thursday.

Results from Tuesday’s election show that District E voters were split based on where they live. Mendell won precincts farther to the north and west, including the Leesville Road area and Brier Creek. Gaylord won big in precincts in and around North Hills.

Whatever differences divided District E were also reflected in the mayor’s race. In precincts won by Gaylord, McFarlane won 61.7 percent of the vote. In precincts won by Mendell, McFarlane won a majority but by a smaller margin – 54.6 percent.

Francis said this week he will announce Monday whether he will seek a runoff with McFarlane, who won 48.45 percent of the overall vote.

Jay Gudeman, chairman of the Northwest Citizens Advisory Council, said Mendell’s victory was unexpected in a district where residents tend “not to rock the boat.”

“I’m pretty flabbergasted by the results, because this area has been pretty solidly conservative and traditional forever, it seems to me,” Gudeman said. “I fully imagine that Stef Mendell’s message of protecting neighborhoods has begun to resonate in this area, as much as it seems to have already begun to resonate in some other areas of the city.”

This isn’t the first time Gaylord has been accused of being too cozy with the development community, Gudeman said. Gaylord’s opponents in previous elections made similar attacks, but Gudeman said Mendell’s message was more successful and aggressive.

A third District E candidate, Derek Walker, received 542 votes in the election. Write-in candidates received 65 votes.

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan