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‘Raleigh politics could use a reset’: Mayor McFarlane not running again

March 14, 2019 GMT

Mayor Nancy McFarlane announced Wednesday morning that she won’t seek a fifth two-year term leading Raleigh. She was first elected mayor in 2011 and most recently re-elected in November 2017.

“Raleigh politics could use a reset, and I could use some time to think about what I could do next,” McFarlane said in a statement Wednesday. “What’s important to me is pretty simple – it’s my children and grandchildren, it’s always been the community, the environment, the arts, the parks – so I’m going to spend some time focusing on those things that are really important to me instead of running for mayor again this year.”

McFarlane, a native of Virginia, has lived in Raleigh for 30 years and was a pharmacist and entrepreneur before her election to Raleigh City Council in 2007. In 2017, she beat challenger Charles Francis — 58 to 42 percent, with only 17 percent of registered voters turning out.

Francis said Wednesday that he plans to run for mayor this fall.

“I look forward to a vigorous campaign focused on how we can make city government work better for everyone,” Francis said in a statement. “People in Raleigh need and deserve improved access to housing, more job and business opportunities, better transit and transportation and a city government that is fair and accessible to all people.”

In celebrating her 2017 win, McFarlane noted the growth and growth management that have been a hallmark of her administration.

“It’s all about planning for this growth because that is the crux of most of the issues we’re hearing about – affordability, transportation, the congestion and traffic – and how do we accommodate all these people that are coming and keep the character of Raleigh,” she said.

In a video statement released Wednesday, McFarlane expressed her love for the city and for being mayor. But in citing the city’s accomplishments, she also addressed her concerns about the current state of politics.

“Something else has changed about Raleigh,” she said. “We used to fight together for the things we cared about. Now it seems like we just fight with each other. The mean politics of Twitter and social media is painful when it’s about you or someone that you love. This ‘social disease’ has exploded since I first ran for City Council in 2007.”

Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said the negativity that has marked politics in Washington, D.C., and, to a lesser extent, the state legislature, for years has started to filter down to the local level.

“It is increasingly difficult to talk to a young person and say, ‘Would you like to run for City Council or run for mayor of Raleigh at some point in your life?’ because they see it as something that has become cumbersome,” McLennan said.

McFarlane went on to say, “When you’ve grown and changed as much as Raleigh has, it’s important to stop and take a look around – are we still focused on the things that are important to us? Are you still working on the things that are important to you, and are you doing them in a way that would make your neighbors proud?”

Census data estimates the population of North Carolina’s capital city at 438,000, up about 25,000 since McFarlane was first elected mayor. (The Raleigh Metropolitan Statistical Area has a population estimated at 1.21 million.) Raleigh has consistently ranked among the nation’s fastest-growing cities, counting a population increase of about 40 percent during the first decade of the 21st century.

Raleigh was also named Forbes’ No. 2 Best Place for Business and Careers for 2017. “Raleigh metro area has by far been the most consistent performer in our annual survey, finishing in the top three each of the past 15 years,” Forbes wrote.

In her State of the City address last spring, McFarlane cited 77 businesses that had announced new locations or expansions, creating 3,760 jobs and $13.65 million of investment within the city in 2017. “We’ve had a very busy year in Raleigh, and I think it’s been one of our best,” she said.

At the same time, she outlined plans to increase access to public transportation and affordable housing.

In October 2017, the city broke ground on the Washington Terrace project, on Hill Street near St. Augustine’s University. It will include 162 affordable apartments and townhomes, 72 apartments for low-income seniors, a community center and a child care center. The city provided about 20 percent of the funding for the project, using a portion of the local property tax that city officials designated for affordable housing projects.

“It has been a terrific honor for me to be there with her doing the hard work,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said, “working on her with Dix [Park], working with her on Raleigh Union Station and, again, all the great things happening downtown.”

McFarlane helped negotiate the purchase of the 300-acre Dix Park site from the state in 2014 and remains one of its biggest champions. The site, former home of the mental hospital built by the state in the 19th century, is being developed into a destination park that Raleigh leaders have compared to Central Park in New York City.

Just last month, Raleigh City Council approved a master plan for the park that calls for sectioning the property into six distinct landscapes: the Creek, the Meadow, the Grove, the Ridge, the Valley and the Gateway. Each area provides different opportunity. Planning and implementation of the vision for the park is expected to take decades.

“We spent $20 million to build a world class greenway system and, with Dix Park, something even more amazing,” McFarlane said Wednesday. “A green legacy for generations to come.”

Adrienne Cole, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, credited McFarlane with moving Dix Park forward and promoting growth in the city.

“Certainly, [her accomplishments include] Dix Park and her leadership with that and the persistence to secure the park for the city,” Cole said. “But beyond that, [it includes] being a champion for downtown, being a champion for job creation and entrepreneurship and innovation, being a champion for parks and open space.”

Cole predicted that McFarlane’s stamp on Dix Park will continue for years to come.

“It is one of those tranformational assets,” Cole said. “It has so much momentum that she has helped build that it will continue, and I imagine she will still be involved.”

“Thank you all so much for your years of support,” McFarlane said in her statement. “It’s meant so much to me. I have loved being your mayor, and now I look forward to being your neighbor.”