Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane won a fourth term in Tuesday’s runoff election. Raleigh won, too.
For three terms as mayor, McFarlane has provided competent and productive leadership. Now she will have two more years to see much of what she has helped set in motion come to fruition. First among those projects will be the design and opening of Dix Park, 300-plus acres on the site of the former Dix Hospital that will become Raleigh’s own Central Park. Also opening will be the new transportation center at Union Station in the Warehouse District. Meanwhile, she’ll be working on plans for a new City Hall, major road improvements and fine tuning the new Unified Development Ordinance that will guide the city’s rapid growth.
Given that to-do list, it’s a wonder that McFarlane faced a challenge from an opponent who said Raleigh should be doing more. But challenged she was by attorney Charles Francis. He finished second to McFarlane in the three-way general election and called for a runoff election after McFarlane fell just short of gaining 50 percent of the vote. The mayor won handily in the rematch, increasing her 12-point general election lead to a 15-point win.
This was McFarlane’s first serious election challenge and usually it’s a good thing to force a comfortable incumbent to run hard and define her accomplishments and agenda. Francis’ challenge had that effect in the general election, but his call for a runoff – at a cost of $500,000 to the city – divided the city for no discernible purpose. It was an empty exercise of political ambition without political acumen.
Francis argued that the city’s low-income and working class residents are being hurt by gentrification and rising housing costs, which they are, but he offered no solutions beyond general talk of more affordable housing and better paying jobs. Meanwhile, McFarlane and the City Council have approved a 1-cent property tax that will generate $60 million over the next 10 years for affordable housing.
Beyond specific issues, McFarlane’s re-election was a victory for the tone of the city’s politics. City races are nonpartisan in hopes that the city’s governance will be likewise free of partisan gamesmanship and divisiveness. McFarlane, an unaffiliated candidate, has worked to preserve a sense of cooperation on the council. Francis, with the misguided backing of the Wake County Democratic Party, argued that a dose of partisan fighting would sharpen the debate and lend urgency to the needs of those who are not sharing in the city’s prosperity. Instead, he added only an abrasive tone and a divisive message.
Now, it is McFarlane’s job to undo that damage by reuniting a city needlessly divided. She can add that task to an already full list, but she has shown – and voters have agreed – that she is up to it.