Wake County

Raleigh mayor fires back at challenger as runoff election approaches

Mayor Nancy McFarlane says she is done being so polite to challenger Charles Francis.

During a press conference Monday afternoon outside City Hall, the three-term incumbent said Francis is using “misleading rhetoric” and “championing political labels” in his effort to unseat her.

“It’s been difficult to hear things over and over in the past few months that I knew were not true,” said McFarlane, an unaffiliated candidate. “I think it’s time to start addressing that.”

Francis, a Democratic attorney and businessman, announced Sunday that he would call for a runoff election after McFarlane failed to win a majority of the votein the Oct. 10 election. McFarlane won 48.5 percent of the vote, while Francis won 36.7 percent. Voters will return to the polls Nov. 7.

In the months leading up to last week’s election, McFarlane didn’t say much about Francis, who criticized her leadership and priorities. But McFarlane on Monday signaled a shift in strategy, striking back at Francis’ claims that the city hasn’t done enough to address a shortage of affordable housing.

The City Council raised the property tax rate by 1 cent to generate nearly $6 million a year for affordable housing, and McFarlane said Raleigh is already using tax-credit programs that Francis says he wants to put in place to urge developers to build housing for lower-income families. She pointed to the city’s partnership with nonprofit DHIC to redo Washington Terrace, as well as the renovation of the Capital Towers senior-citizen apartments on Six Forks Road.

“We do all of those programs already,” McFarlane said.

McFarlane also took issue with Francis’ claim that she has not been receptive enough to residents’ concerns.

“I think I have reached a great deal of the community,” said McFarlane, who has been mayor since 2011. “If (Francis) had been involved in city government in the past 20 years, he would have known that.”

Francis, a political newcomer, and McFarlane both said their campaigns are in the process of finding a time and place to debate.

Paul Fitts, who came in third place in last week’s election and was backed by the Wake County Republican Party, said he will support Francis in the runoff. In a statement Sunday, McFarlane said Fitts and the GOP both “fervently support President Trump and hope to divide those who share progressive values.”

Francis said he wants to reach all voters, regardless of party affiliation.

“The reason Republicans ought to look at me, first, is because I’m a businessman,” he said. “I come from a tradition of small business owners. I’m a business owner, and I was one of the founding directors of North State Bank. And I believe in keeping property taxes as low as possible.”

Francis on Monday called the election “a referendum on whether Raleigh can do better.”

“The mayor said today that everything is fine and we need to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t agree with that. There are many people in Raleigh who are suffering and not enjoying the growth and prosperity of Raleigh.”

Francis, who received about 6,200 fewer votes than McFarlane in the first round of voting, said he wants to increase voter turnout in the runoff. He pointed to the 2001 runoff between challenger Charles Meeker and Mayor Paul Coble, in which turnout increased by about 10,000 voters between the first balloting and the runoff.

McFarlane’s campaign had about 150 volunteers on hand leading up to the Oct. 10 election, and most have said they’ll be back to help with the runoff, said campaign manager James Sonneman. In the next few weeks, McFarlane will work to make sure voters see a link between her ability as a long-term planner and Raleigh’s recent growth, he said.

“We need to really amplify her record more on the issues like affordable housing, transit, and balance that out with her true passion for long-term projects like Dix Park,” Sonneman said.

As of the latest filing deadline at the end of September,

McFarlane had raised $202,128, including a $50,000 personal loan to her campaign, through the end of September and had $44,660 on hand heading into October. Francis had raised $231,264, including a $19,500 personal loan, and had $67,805 on hand.

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan