Francis wants it both ways on partisanship in Raleigh mayor race

Candidate for Raleigh Mayor Charles Francis.
Candidate for Raleigh Mayor Charles Francis. cseward@newsobserver.com

Despite losing to Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane by nearly 12 points in the general election, Charles Francis demanded a Nov. 7 runoff election since McFarlane just missed getting past the 50 percent of the vote she needed to win re-election outright. But more scrutiny has cost Francis, a Democrat, the support the Equality NC Action Fund, the political arm of the group that advocates for LGBT rights.

Equality NC Action Fund this week revoked its endorsement of Francis, a Democrat, after learning he campaigned for former Republican state Sen. Fred Smith Jr., the sponsor of the state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex-marriage. The group was also dismayed to see Francis courting the Wake GOP, whose leaders backed the anti-LGBT law, House Bill 2. Meanwhile, Republican donors are prominent among Francis’ backers and helped him raise more campaign funds than McFarlane, a three-term incumbent.

As the Equality NC PAC’s board members learned more about Francis’ record and his supporters, they pulled their general election endorsement of both McFarlane and Francis and decided to back only McFarlane in the runoff.

Francis, of course, is free to support – and take support from – whomever he wants, but voters are also free to expect that he be forthright about his politics and consistent about his causes. Francis injected a partisan test into what’s supposed to be a nonpartisan race by trumpeting himself as “a proud, lifelong Democrat” endorsed by the local party. He has positioned himself on the progressive side as the candidate more in touch with the needs of low-income and minority Raleigh residents. Now it turns out he has backed an opponent of gay rights and wants the support of GOP leaders.

Francis says his support of Republicans and their support of him reflect old friendships and his business connections, including his role as a founding director of North State Bank, where Smith is chairman of the board. He says he supports LGBT rights, but also wants to reach out to all Raleigh voters.

It can be encouraging to see a candidate transcend partisanship and receive support from Republicans and Democrats. McFarlane, an unaffiliated voter, is backed by members of both parties. But Francis wants it both ways. On one side, he’s a liberal firebrand fighting for those left behind by Raleigh’s growth and a champion of gay rights, and on the other side he’s a candidate at ease with supporting and being supported by developers and social conservatives.