Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane scored a convincing victory to earn a fourth term Tuesday, despite an all-out challenge from political newcomer Charles Francis, a Democrat.
Unofficial Wake County Board of Elections totals with all 108 precincts reporting gave McFarlane 58 percent of the vote, with 42 percent going to Francis. Her totals and lead were far more commanding than in the October 10 primary, where she scored about 48 percent of the vote. The percentage won in October by GOP challenger Paul Fitts apparently did not swing to Francis as he and some Republicans had hoped.
At a campaign celebration in downtown Raleigh, McFarlane, who served on the city council for two years before her first election as mayor in 2011, talked about starting work again with the new council that will be sworn in on December 1.
“I think we’ve identified a couple of things that we want to focus on—like citizen engagement,” she said. “How do we reach out to people? What is citizen engagement? It’s more than just sitting in a room and talking about one thing.”
During the campaign, Francis turned a fracas over Raleigh’s citizens advisory committees into a campaign issue, saying McFarlane cared more about large developments than about low-income people’s needs. In the end, though, his themes of new ideas and a more equitable Raleigh weren’t enough to overcome voters’ comfort with the state of the city and McFarlane’s reputation as a low-profile politician who has gotten things done.
“It’s about what I was thinking, from talking to people and feedback,” McFarlane said of the results.
In a little less than a month, McFarlane will be working with a city council containing two new members, Stefanie Mendell and Nicole Stewart. Some observers believe the new cast of councilors will lead Raleigh in a more neighborhood-friendly (and less developer-friendly) direction.
The 2017 mayoral race was the first in which McFarlane got a real-world challenge for the top job. Frances, a
and banker, started jabbing at her from the day he registered to run, calling her aloof, distant, and out of touch with the needs of many Raleigh residents. McFarlane, a pharmacist by training and the founder of a successful pharma company, at first tried to stay above the fray, pointing to the many accomplishments of her years in office. But when Frances came close enough on October 10 to ask for a runoff, McFarlane started firing shots of her own, calling Frances inexperienced and inaccurate in many of his statements about her record.
Unknown politically before this race, Francis drew a diverse group of voters from across the political spectrum to move McFarlane out of the comfort zone she had inhabited in three previous elections. Both candidates dug deep into subjects such as affordable housing, income inequality, and the distribution of city resources.
Those issues remain for McFarlane and the new city council to tackle.