Raleigh-born attorney and banker Charles Francis came out swinging against Mayor Nancy McFarlane on Friday, the day he filed to seek her job in the October 10 municipal elections.
Francis, fifty-four, a Democrat, officially announced his candidacy this week to oppose McFarlane, sixty, an unaffiliated politician who has announced that she will seek a fourth term as mayor.
Francis, a former federal prosecutor, criticized the mayor as “aloof and disengaged” when dealing with citizens from across the city. His remarks gave one of the first indications of the themes of his candidacy, which had been long-rumored, but was only announced this week.
“The mayor has failed to respond to the basic concerns of the people in Raleigh for less traffic congestion and [for] transit, for a range of affordable housing options and for respecting and listening to people,” Francis said after he filed as a candidate at the Wake County Board of Elections.
Perry Woods, general consultant to McFarlane’s campaign, disputed Francis’s criticism.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Francis has chosen to launch his campaign with an inaccurate personal attack,” Woods said during a phone interview Friday evening. “Just this year, the council has dedicated a penny of the tax base to affordable housing and we’re tripling the number of units. We placed a transportation bond on the ballot. And ninety-one percent of the people in a recent survey taken by the city said the quality of life was good to excellent.”
Francis attended public schools before graduating from Princeton University and Duke Law School. He cited his childhood in Southeast Raleigh, and his education at Effie Green Elementary, Ligon Middle and Sanderson High, as well as a successful career in law and business, as key to representing people from all over Raleigh.
“I grew up reading books at Richard B. Harrison Library and playing basketball at the community centers and gyms around town,” he said. “Now I’m a founding director of one of the country’s most successful community banks, North State Bank.”
McFarlane, who grew up in Arlington, Virginia., and co-founded a specialty pharmacy company, was elected to Raleigh City Council in 2007 and 2009, serving as chair of the city’s comprehensive planning committee. She successfully ran for mayor in 2011, 2013 and 2015, winning by more than sixty percent of the vote the first time out, and by more than seventy percent in the past two races, according to Wake County election records.
“I think Mayor McFarlane has been reelected because the voters have not had a strong choice,” Francis said. “I’m going to give them that choice for leadership that engages people from all over Raleigh to improve our quality of life and increase social mobility.”
Francis stressed his assertion of the incumbent’s inability to relate well to people from all over town. “The CAC debacle is just the clearest example of that,” he said, referring to the long-established Community Advisory Councils, neighborhood-based groups that have advised the city on planning decisions and other matters for decades.
On May 2, McFarlane and four other council members voted to create a new Community Engagement Board based on the recommendations of a task force. Council members questioned some of the task force’s recommendation, under which CACs would have been replaced. That left details of the new board vague, except that it would reflect Raleigh’s diversity.
Reaction to the vote was strongly negative among long-time neighborhood advocates. The city has scheduled an August 28 work session to start filling in details of the board and its processes with help from consultants from North Carolina State University. The process could take two years.
“Council [members] are taking steps to find ways to improve citizen engagement that will include the CACs,” Woods said.
Francis’s willingness to disagree sharply with McFarlane seemed to indicate, at the least, a lively debate over candidates’ qualifications and the direction of the city.
“Hopefully as the campaign moves forward, Mr. Francis will elevate his level of discourse,” Woods said.
There’s still plenty of time for additional candidates to come forward – filing continues until July 18.