Candidate challenges Raleigh mayor to debate, if not runoff
Posted 4:29 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 6:42 p.m. Wednesday
Raleigh, N.C. — Mayoral candidate Charles Francis said Wednesday that he needs to talk with his donors and other supporters before requesting a runoff election with Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.
McFarlane finished Tuesday's election with 48.5 percent of the 52,449 votes cast, while Francis garnered 36.7 percent and Paul Fitts had 14.8 percent. Because no candidate had a majority of the votes, Francis is allowed as the second-place finisher to call for a runoff between him and McFarlane.
He said he would make a decision before the Wake County Board of Elections finalizes vote totals next Monday.
"People from all over Raleigh responded to our message that we need a change in mayoral leadership and that Raleigh can do better," Francis said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "It's striking that Nancy McFarlane has been in office for 10 years and yet a majority of people in town believe that Raleigh needs to go in a different direction."
McFarlane is seeking her fourth two-year term as mayor. She served on Raleigh City Council before that.
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement said that, although candidates have until Oct. 19 to request a runoff, early voting for the Nov. 7 election starts the same day, so it would be best for such requests to be made as soon as possible so ballots can be printed up.
"I'm not going to be driven by a bureaucrat's timetable," Francis said when reporters pressed him on a possible runoff.
McFarlane said a runoff could be divisive for the city.
"Division and pitting the community against each other is just not Raleigh. It's not the way we do things," she said.
Raleigh's last mayoral runoff was in 2001 when Charles Meeker narrowly defeated incumbent Paul Coble. Meeker then went on to serve five terms.
During the recent campaign, Francis repeatedly said city leaders have ignored portions of Raleigh as the city has grown and that more attention needs to be given to affordable housing, transit and mental health care.
"The vote [Tuesday] expressed broad dissatisfaction with the direction that Raleigh is headed in," he said, accusing McFarlane and City Council members of a complacent attitude that "borders on smugness."
McFarlane said criticism of Raleigh's efforts to expand affordable housing is unfair, noting the city dedicated a penny of its local tax rate to securing more units.
"We've really set it as a priority, and I think the things that we've done really didn't come out," she said.
Francis called the effort "too little, too late," saying a property tax is the wrong way to approach the issue.
He challenged McFarlane to a debate so more people could see where they each of them stand on issues facing Raleigh.
"She needs to communicate a lot more with the almost 20,000 voters who supported me," he said.
During the news conference, Francis also said his campaign was looking into alleged voting irregularities in the election. Some votes in southeast Raleigh took too long to be sent in, he said, and a number of people had to cast provisional ballots because they were wrongly challenged at their polling sites with questions over voter identification.