The two candidates for Raleigh mayor have different ideas about the city’s priorities and spending habits.
On Nov. 7, voters will choose between three-term incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane, an unaffiliated candidate, and Democratic challenger Charles Francis.
McFarlane won 48.5 percent of the vote in the Oct. 10 general election, while Francis won 36.7 percent and Republican Paul Fitts won 14.8. Since no one got a majority, Francis called for a runoff against McFarlane. Fitts will not appear on the ballot.
Here are six issues that set Francis and McFarlane apart.
McFarlane has shown a willingness to increase taxes. Francis describes himself as a fiscal conservative who generally opposes tax hikes.
Raleigh’s property tax rate has risen 4.3 cents in the past five years. The current rate is 42.5 cents per $100 in valuation.
Last year, the City Council increased the property tax rate by 2 cents for affordable housing and to pay off debt from the city’s purchase of Dix Park. The council also agreed to put a referendum on the Oct. 10 ballot asking voters to spend $200 million for road and sidewalk upgrades. Voters approved the bond, which will increase the property tax rate by 1.3 cents over the next few years.
McFarlane says it’s OK to raise taxes to invest in the city’s future, but “we don’t just spend money on every shiny thing that comes down the pike.”
Francis says increases in the property tax rate are particularly hard on “land rich, cash poor” older residents on fixed incomes. Instead of raising taxes, he wants to reshuffle money from existing resources to focus on social programs and transportation.
McFarlane and Francis both support Dix Park, but to varying degrees.
McFarlane calls the city’s purchase of the roughly 300-acre site near downtown the first step toward creating “an economic driver for this city for generations.”
Francis says the fanfare surrounding Dix Park has distracted the city from attending to more basic services and needs, including smaller parks in Southeast Raleigh. He’s critical of the city’s decision to hire a New York-based firm to design the park instead of a local company.
“Access to housing, transportation, jobs and education – the basic city services – are more important than bike lanes and parks,” Francis says. “I would put additional focus on those issues.”
McFarlane says she is proud of how downtown Raleigh has grown. Francis calls the revitalization “incomplete and unbalanced.”
“We’re trying to build a thriving economy, so yes, there is lots of development downtown,” McFarlane says. “And hopefully they pay lots of taxes so we have the money to help (low-income) neighborhoods.”
“We need a lot more office development downtown for medium-sized companies,” Francis says. “We need health care downtown, and we need more housing downtown at all income levels.”
McFarlane wants Raleigh to build a new city government complex. Francis says the project is too extravagant.
The City Council supports a plan to build a $165 million government complex on Hargett Street to replace the existing City Hall. City workers are spread out among several downtown buildings, and McFarlane says they would work more efficiently under the same roof. Early plans call for building retail and commercial space as part of the project.
Francis says workers can make do with the existing City Hall, which was built in 1983. He says the money could be better spent elsewhere, or not spent at all.
Both candidates say the city needs more affordable housing. But this one’s a bit murkier in terms of pinpointing the differences.
McFarlane says affordable housing is the city’s No. 1 priority. Last year, McFarlane voted as part of the City Council in favor of a plan to increase the property tax rate by 1 cent to generate $5.7 million a year for affordable housing. She points to recent efforts, including a $2.8 million contribution from the city for a renovation of Capital Towers, Raleigh’s largest affordable housing complex for seniors. The city is also giving $8.6 million toward the rebuild of Washington Terrace, an affordable housing complex in Southeast Raleigh. In nearby East College Park, a city-led plan will produce dozens of affordable homes.
It’s best for the city to partner with nonprofits such as DHIC, a Raleigh-based housing group that bought Washington Terrace, McFarlane says. She wants to see affordable housing spread throughout the city.
Francis, who has been the Raleigh Housing Authority’s legal counsel since 1995, says city leaders haven’t done enough to address an affordable-housing shortage. He has criticized a tax-based funding approach as “small and inadequate.” The city should instead offer tax breaks to developers who build affordable housing, he says.
Raleigh should also build affordable housing on land it already owns, Francis says. City leaders are trying to decide what to do with a handful of city-owned downtown properties. McFarlane says some of the sites would be a good fit for low-income housing, but the city could sell some properties and use the proceeds to fund affordable housing elsewhere.
McFarlane, an unaffiliated candidate, describes herself as a consensus-builder. Francis, who calls himself a “proud, lifelong Democrat,” says the mayor should be more forceful.
McFarlane says her diplomatic approach to thorny issues helps when it comes to dealing with state lawmakers. She contrasted her approach with that of Charlotte’s outspoken mayor, Jennifer Roberts, and said her good relationship with legislators helped Raleigh-Durham International Airport get state money this year for a new runway.
“Am I going to change minds?” she said of lawmakers. “I don’t know, but whose airport just got $20 million, and whose didn’t?”
Francis says McFarlane too often abdicates her leadership responsibilities by allowing staff and consultants to dictate policy. He says he would take a more forceful role in making sure city staff fulfill his policy goals rather than vice versa. He also says he’d be willing to take more aggressive stands against the General Assembly when necessary.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan