When it comes to electing a mayor of Raleigh, there is usually no suspense and rarely any intrigue. The races typically involve a strong incumbent against a long-shot opponent and the issues involve the mundane and the perennial: potholes, parks, zoning, trash collection and taxes.
This year is different. Mayor Nancy McFarlane, 61, an independent, is seeking a fourth term for the ostensibly nonpartisan office amid a wave of growth and development. She has won three terms by increasingly larger margins, but this time she has drawn a strong and well-funded challenger in Charles Francis.
Francis, 54, a personal injury attorney and counsel to the city housing authority, is a Raleigh native and a member of a family with deep roots in the capital city. He has impressive academic credentials as a graduate of Princeton University who received his law degree from Duke.
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And Francis, who won the endorsement of the Raleigh Democratic Party, is not campaigning on fixing potholes. He is talking about the big picture, about raising the ambitions of the city. As Raleigh becomes bigger, he wants its leaders to think bigger. And he wants them to think broader. He thinks more people should benefit from Raleigh’s growth, particularly those in Southeast Raleigh where largely African-American neighborhoods are being displaced by largely white gentrification.
“We need someone in this office who can bring all the different stakeholders together,” Francis said in an interview with The News & Observer’s editorial board. He said the current mayor, by temperament and attitude, is not one who can unify the city. He said she is “aloof” and “disengaged” and “you can’t lead people if you don’t engage them.”
Also running is Republican Paul Fitts, 48, a mortgage lender who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2011 and for a seat on the Wake County Board of Commissioners in 2012. Fitts is focused on reducing the city’s debt, though the level of the city’s borrowing is modest and it has an excellent bond rating.
In most years, a candidate like Francis would merit our support. But this year our reservations are not about the candidate, but his candidacy. He is in the right place at the wrong time.
Despite Francis’ criticisms, McFarlane has practiced a low-key, but effective style of leadership. She gets things done without fanfare or acrimony. She has kept the City Council on a productive and progressive track while deftly dealing with the anti-urban Republicans who lead the General Assembly.
McFarlaneʼs accomplishments effectively negate Francis’ reasons for running. He is talking about encouraging more affordable housing and improving transportation. McFarlane and the council have approved $6 million a year for affordable housing; a new train station, Union Station, is going up in the Warehouse District, and Moore Square bus terminal has undergone a major renovation. A transportation bond issue on the October ballot will upgrade city streets. Taxes remain relatively low, city growth is being smartly channeled through a new Unified Development Ordinance and city services are well delivered.
Itʼs likely that a fourth term would be McFarlaneʼs last. She deserves re-election on the strength of her record and she deserves to be in office when the large projects she set in motion are completed: the opening of Union Station, the launch of Dix Park and the renovation of Moore Square. “It’s good to see (those projects) come to fruition because you can see what they’ll do for the city,” she said.
No one may be more aware of McFarlaneʼs effectiveness than Francis. As he has sought backers, he admits to encountering a surprising depth of support for the mayor. Thatʼs not there by accident. McFarlane built that support through behind-the-scenes meetings, turning up at neighborhood events and keeping the council’s deliberations – in practice as well as in name – nonpartisan.
Charles Francis brings impressive credentials and a strong message to this race for mayor, but he is trying to force a choice where there need not be one. Nancy McFarlane has been a fine mayor of Raleigh. We endorse her and her record with enthusiasm and look forward to her bringing the city’s big projects to reality in her next term.