Raleigh’s newly re-elected mayor on bringing the city together and her priorities for the next two years.
Last month, Mayor Nancy McFarlane cruised to reelection to her fourth term in a runoff race, besting her opponent Charles Francis by winning a decisive 58 percent of the vote. As in the October race, Francis won all of the precincts in east Raleigh, which has a large African American population and is gentrifying quickly, displacing longtime residents. But McFarlane’s 31,469 votes, compared to Francis’ 22,983, brought her out on top in the majority of precincts across the city.
This was the first race since the politically unaffiliated mayor was elected in 2011 that she had to put up any sort of a fight for the seat. Francis, a Democrat, was a highly qualified, well-financed challenger whose message of greater economic equity, better public transportation and more affordable housing resonated with many voters, especially those in poorer precincts.
McFarlane says she hasn’t let that go unnoticed and that she is committed to improving the quality of life for Raleigh residents who haven’t benefitted as much as others from the city’s explosive growth.
“I heard this year from people who feel disconnected from the city and felt like they have not been included and that they were not aware of what is going on,” McFarlane says. “That’s going to be more important going forward. The city is growing quickly and people felt like they were left behind. Often, these are people that may have two jobs and are working hard. We need to figure how people are engaging in the city and what citizen engagement means to them.”
To this end, McFarlane suggests forming more and stronger partnerships between the city and organizations such as churches, nonprofits and community centers where citizens may already be active and involved. She points to the Pathway Center in southeast Raleigh, a partnership between the city, the Capital Area Workforce Development Board and Wake Tech, that connects members of the public to job skills training, internship opportunities, mentoring and tech-for-hire programs and other services that provide a pathway to future career success.
“Across the country, we are seeing a divide, where income inequality is greater in cities,” McFarlane says. “In southeast Raleigh, what I heard from the community was help entering the job market was one of the biggest things they asked for.”
McFarlane says continuing to manage growth, including dealing with increasing property values and traffic and adding to the stock of affordable housing will also be priorities for the council over the next two years. She says she’s looking forward to seeing major projects she’s been heavily involved with come to fruition, including completing the Dix Park Master Plan, launching the city’s part in the Wake County Transit Plan and opening Union Station.
Though she’s hinted at winding down her time in public service, McFarlane says she’s not sure where the city will be in two years so won’t rule out running for a fifth term. But she is interested in getting more young people involved with city affairs so that when the time comes, the next generation of leaders is engaged and ready to step up and guide Raleigh’s future.
“It’s incredible when you think about the city’s growth in ten years, all the new people and ideas,” McFarlane says. “Raleigh is a great place to be and we got here by doing great planning. For me, it’s all about continuing to plan well. It’s about building the city you want and not just taking the one that’s handed to you.”