Nancy McFarlane came to the Raleigh City Council as the District A representative in 2007, having built a successful business in the pharmaceutical industry and proved her interest in community involvement starting with the PTA. She was a soft-spoken but effective council member, but her bid to succeed Charles Meeker as mayor in 2011 caught some by surprise. Could someone who had not been particularly outspoken at the council table lead the city, set a progressive agenda and bring sometimes contentious council members together?
The answer, after her two terms as mayor, is a resounding yes. The News & Observer’s editorial endorsement for a third term goes to Mayor McFarlane without hesitation. Her list of accomplishments is substantial. Her grasp of the issues facing the city is firm.
She has been an outstanding public servant for all citizens, no mean feat in a diverse city that is growing but wrestling with the challenges that growth brings, a city with much prosperity but problems with affordable housing, a city with many younger residents who enjoy a variety of entertainment venues but who seem to resent any curbs on their favorite bars downtown.
McFarlane’s opponent is Bob Weltzin, a chiropractor and Army Reservist. He has previously run for the office. Weltzin wants to boost pay for firefighters and police, and he criticizes the state of Raleigh’s infrastructure. His platform is thin in terms of how to pay for what he wants to do, however, and his criticisms of city government aren’t supported by the facts. Though likable, he can’t match the incumbent in experience and accomplishment.
McFarlane, 59, counts as a notable accomplishment the city’s acquisition of over 300 acres for a Dorothea Dix park, on the grounds of the historic hospital for the mentally ill. McFarlane, after starts and stops and partisan bickering from Republicans in the General Assembly, got the park secured.
She also has negotiated with myriad interested parties, from neighborhood advocates to developers, on various aspects of a comprehensive plan to guide development and on zoning changes.
The mayor has been a reasonable but firm voice in trying to reason with Republican lawmakers now in control of the General Assembly who seem bent on taking rights and resources away from the state’s largest cities. The redistribution of sales taxes, from urban to rural areas, and the loss of business privilege taxes that helped fund infrastructure are just two areas that will present the mayor with challenges ahead. Her business acumen will be valuable as the city wrestles with those and embarks on a mission to improve transportation despite limits installed in the latest state budget on light rail spending, yet another anti-urban maneuver.
From the development of Union Station to the arts and entertainment festivals that have prospered under Mayor McFarlane to the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass, Raleigh has some good days behind and ahead thanks to McFarlane’s leadership.
But McFarlane realizes some citizens can be left behind in that wave of prosperity, and she wants to work, she said in an interview with The N&O editorial board, for more affordable housing all around the city, paired with improved transit service so that working people “can get to where they need to go.” She is particularly emphasizing having a variety of income levels in affordable housing initiatives and all neighborhoods, which she rightly believes will help public schools avoid the problem of too many lower-income children in too few schools.
She will continue, she says, to push for ways to connect the city to the rest of the Triangle. Many in Raleigh use hospitals, universities and entertainment venues in Durham, Chapel Hill and other communities in the region. She said, “Growth is coming, and we have to plan to accommodate growth without losing Raleigh. Rapid growth, if you don’t get on top of it, will get you.”
This is a mayor who understands challenges, who has a vision for facing them and who has been by any measure successful. And though a couple of council members have indicated they plan to run for mayor two years from now, perhaps assuming McFarlane would then be done, for her part McFarlane says if she wins another term, she doesn’t necessarily plan to be a lame-duck mayor. The way things have gone, that seems like a pretty good idea indeed.