When Raleigh voters head to the polls next month, they won’t be met by Wake County GOP representatives urging them to choose a certain candidate for mayor.
The local Republican Party on Tuesday announced that it won’t endorse either candidate – incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who is unaffiliated, or Democratic challenger Charles Francis.
The party invited both candidates to speak at its meeting Monday, but only Francis attended. McFarlane “politely declined,” said Charles Hellwig, chairman of the Wake GOP.
“It is extremely refreshing to have Mr. Francis come and talk with Wake GOP about bringing people together and finding common ground,” Hellwig said. “He may be a Democrat, but he isn’t afraid to talk with Republicans about the issues facing Raleigh, and that says a lot for his character.”
Elections for the Raleigh City Council, including the mayor’s seat, are nonpartisan, but the GOP and the Wake County Democratic Party typically offer endorsements. Francis was backed by the Democratic party in last week’s election, and the Republican group backed third-place finisher Paul Fitts.
Raleigh hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 2001, when Paul Coble was ousted by Democrat Charles Meeker. Raleigh is home to 136,000 registered Democrats, 62,000 registered Republicans and 105,000 unaffiliated voters.
Francis has called for a runoff election on Nov. 7 after McFarlane failed to win a majority of the vote last week. She got 48 percent, while Francis got 36 percent.
Fitts, a Republican who won 14 percent of the vote, said he is supporting Francis in the runoff.
McFarlane said in a statement Tuesday that she did not want to “court” Republican leaders.
“This is a non-partisan race and repeated attempts to insert DC-style politics into Raleigh's elections hinder our city's success,” McFarlane said.
“There are many Republicans who have supported me because of Raleigh's wise fiscal policy and success promoting entrepreneurship and job growth,” she continued. “Unlike Charles Francis, I will not court GOP party leadership that fervently supports Donald Trump and his America First policies which are only further dividing our country,” McFarlane said.
Earlier this week, Francis said he thought his credentials as a businessman and his opposition to raising property taxes could make him an attractive candidate for Republican voters. He is an attorney who runs the Francis Law Firm in downtown Raleigh and is involved with North State Bank.
In a statement Tuesday, Francis said he’s a “proud life-long Democrat” who wants represent “all of Raleigh.”
“Though I differ on many issues with the Republican Party, there is one main issue that many Democrats and Republicans agree on; Mayor McFarlane should not spend $165 million of taxpayer money on a ‘Taj Mahal City Hall,” Francis said, referring to the city’s plan to potentially sell off some of its downtown land to help pay for a new municipal campus.
Fitts, for his part, says he’s supporting Francis because he feels like McFarlane has “ignored” the city’s first responders, among other reasons. Some police officers and firefighters picketed City Hall in 2016 because their pay rates were among the lowest in the county.
The council that year gave first responders the same 3 to 3.5 percent pay bump as other city employees, and then this February endorsed the city manager’s decision to authorize 6 to 13 percent raises for public safety employees as part of a broader compensation adjustment.
“He’s a better leader,” Fitts said of Francis in an email. The day after the election, Fitts referred to other Republican candidates as “real men” for “fighting for reason and responsibility in an indebted city.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan