For three consecutive elections, Nancy McFarlane has cruised to easy wins. Two years ago, the unaffiliated McFarlane defeated Republican Robert Weltzin by a fifty-point spread. Two years before that, she beat Weltzin by fifty-one points. Two years before that, she claimed the mayor’s seat in a three-way race by thirty-one points. She’s never faced a serious challenge.
Charles Francis would have you believe he’s no Robert Weltzin. And he’s not, in at least one meaningful way: Francis is a proud Democrat in an increasingly Democratic city.
Heretofore, McFarlane, a former pharma executive, had been able to play it both ways, winning votes from progressive Democrats as well as independents and some Republicans. But this year, the Wake County Democratic Party, with a strong African-American candidate out to make his mark, endorsed Francis in the nonpartisan election.
With a background as a federal prosecutor and a bank founder, Francis has some old Raleigh connections to call on (including some prominent Republicans), creating some awkward moments for old-line Democrats who always felt comfortable with McFarlane. What’s a Cameron Park Dem to do?
(There’s also a Republican in the race, Paul Fitts, but you needn’t worry about him.)
Francis says his priority would be “improving the quality of life for our citizens,” including through affordable housing. “We have leadership at City Hall that is satisfied with increasing affordable housing units by the dozens instead of by the hundreds,” he says. He also wants to improve the city’s mass transit options and champion job recruitment.
McFarlane has bristled at Francis’s criticisms that she’s aloof and has done too little for low-income people. But he has a point. Her move to replace the city’s nineteen citizen advisory committeescitizen groups that pro-development types love to whine aboutwith an ill-defined citizen engagement board was a misstep. (She quickly backed off.) And Francis is also right that the money the city has invested in affordable housing isn’t enough. Additionally, he could criticize the plodding city bureaucracy as well as the self-defeating decision to eliminate free nighttime parking in downtown garages. There’s also the fact that McFarlane hasn’t quite been the champion of social justice we’d like to see.
But Francis’s critiques of Raleigh’s quality of life seem misplaced. The mayor’s team frequently touts a poll that found that 91 percent of Raleigh’s residents rated the city’s quality of life as good to excellent. People are moving to the city in droves, businesses are flourishing, taxes are reasonable, if rising. If nothing else, McFarlane has kept in motion the downtown wave that former mayor Charles Meeker started. And, in what’s likely to be her legacy, she helped push through the deal to turn the Dorothea Dix property into a destination park.
Francis hasn’t made a compelling case that McFarlane deserves the boot. Does city government have room to improve? Absolutely. But has it gone completely off the rails? Not by a long shot. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Francis has a lot to offer Raleigh. But McFarlane deserves one more term.