Raleigh Report

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane to seek 4th term

Mayor Nancy McFarlane gives the State of the City address during a Rotary Club meeting held at the Raleigh Convention Center on March 9, 2015.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane gives the State of the City address during a Rotary Club meeting held at the Raleigh Convention Center on March 9, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

Nancy McFarlane says she will seek a fourth term as Raleigh’s mayor this fall with the goal of continuing to preserve city neighborhoods while promoting economic development.

McFarlane, 60, revealed her intentions to put her name on the October ballot Friday morning, just hours before she delivered her “State of the City” speech at the Contemporary Art Museum in downtown Raleigh.

The entire eight-member Raleigh City Council is up for election on Oct. 10, and the candidate filing period doesn’t begin until July 7. But McFarlane, the first person to announce her candidacy, declared it early this year to offer residents a sense of stability at a time when America is deeply divided, she said.

“What I see is not only a willingness to put that aside, but an increased interest in being active in our community,” McFarlane said, according to a transcript of her speech.

“There are a lot of things we cannot control,” she said. “But we can continue to work together, to find that common thread, and create the kind of community that we want to call home. And I think that it is even more important in these uncertain times.”

Raleigh has had only two mayors over 16 years. Charles Meeker in 2001 started the first of five two-year terms before retiring from city politics in 2011, when McFarlane won her first term.

It’s unclear if anyone will run against her. McFarlane co-founded and sold a specialty pharmacy company and, despite being politically unaffiliated, was endorsed by the Wake Democratic Party in recent elections. McFarlane spent about $100,000 on her last campaign and had about $7,400 in campaign cash on hand, according to her most recent finance disclosure.

Councilman David Cox, who’s also unaffiliated and represents Northeast Raleigh, suggested he’s considering a run for mayor. “Can’t say that I have made any decisions,” Cox said Friday. “It is too early to think in any details about the election.”

Each of the other council members applauded McFarlane’s decision and said they won’t run against her.

“I will be happy to help her continue to move the city forward!” Kay Crowder, the mayor pro tem, wrote in an email.

“She’s a great leader and a great consensus-maker,” Dickie Thompson said.

In an interview, McFarlane said a primary reason she’s seeking re-election is to continue leading the city as it designs Dix Park. The city acquired the 308-acre Dorothea Dix Hospital property from the state in 2015 for $52 million. Raleigh’s mayor holds a leadership role on the Dix Park executive committee, which recently picked a consultant to craft a master plan for the property over the next two years.

Her speech, meanwhile, focused on Raleigh’s reputation as a great place to live and how city leaders plan to address the city’s needs. As Raleigh grows, she said, city leaders will need to focus on addressing traffic and maintaining an affordable cost of living.

McFarlane’s priorities are reflected in the city budget the council approved last summer. The council effectively raised the property tax rate by two cents to generate $11.4 million in revenue – half to help the city finance debt it took on to buy Dix Park and half to expand Raleigh’s affordable housing program for the year from 200 units to 325 units.

“We worked with staff to develop a plan to partner with local nonprofits to build more affordable housing across the city,” she said in her speech. “We know that there will always be more to do, but we are dedicated to addressing the issue and working as hard as we can to ensure that people have options in housing choices available to them.”

McFarlane’s popularity among voters has grown in each mayoral election since her first. She garnered more than 61 percent of the vote in 2011, 72 percent in 2013 and 74 percent in 2015.

Last year was perhaps the most turbulent time of McFarlane’s tenure.

In February 2016, the City Council faced criticism from people who wanted police held more accountable after an officer shot and killed a man in Southeast Raleigh. The council later adopted body-worn cameras for police and required officers to obtain written consent to perform a search.

The state government in March adopted House Bill 2, which forbids local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people and requires people in government facilities to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. The bill nullified an anti-discrimination ordinance the City Council passed in 2014 that prohibits the city government and its contractors from discriminating against anyone based on race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. McFarlane later that month echoed the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s statement against HB2, saying it doesn’t represent the city’s values and is bad for the economy.

“I was hoping that I could announce a resolution tonight, but they continue to work to find a way to resolve this and I hope, to start to repair the state’s reputation,” McFarlane said, according to the transcript.

Later last spring, the council faced criticism from public safety employees lobbying for big raises so they could afford Raleigh’s rising cost of living and to make their pay competitive with other cities. The McFarlane-led council in June granted a 3 percent pay bump for all employees, saying it wanted to wait for the results of a City Hall-wide compensation study before making big wage changes. Raleigh last month approved raises for more than half of city employees, with workers in the police and fire departments getting raises of 6 to 13 percent.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht