by Bob Geary
Earlier this year, Charles Meeker was giving off an "I'm out of here soon" vibe that indicated his current, fourth term as mayor would be his last. He certainly thought about it, telling friends that he'd like to concentrate more time on his law practice and be done with -- though Hizzoner's not a complainer -- the incessant demands of mayoral politics and public relations. (For which our city of nearly 400,000 folk pays the princely sum of $15K a year.)
But on Monday, Meeker will announce his decision about running again in October, and several excellent sources say he will run, for two reasons. One, he feels an obligation to stay with the job through the economic bad times, rather than throw the unpleasant task of trying to balance Raleigh's budget -- and raise taxes? (though Meeker's pretty much ruled that out for fiscal '10) -- to someone else. Second, he'd like to make a smooth handoff to a Democratic successor, but his party mates on the City Council either don't quite suit him (Thomas Crowder), have job commitments that preclude it (Russ Stephenson), wouldn't run (James West), and/or are in their first Council terms and still learning their way around City Hall (Nancy McFarlane, Mary-Ann Baldwin, Rodger Koopman).
Meeker was unopposed in '07 and, in fact, hasn't faced a tough opponent since he ousted Republican Paul Coble in 2001. The rumor was around that Coble might run if Meeker didn't. More likely, the lone Republican Council member, Philip Isley, would've run -- he, too, has always said that his law practice and the demands of being mayor were a tough fit, but if Meeker stepped down, could Isley have resisted his party's importuning?
Meeker's "govern from the center" approach has irked some neighborhood activists and smart-growth types who'd like to see more progressive fire from the mayor on issues like affordable housing, transit planning and pushing developers for concessions to community needs instead of the other way around. But his squeaky-clean image and his willingness to listen to everyone -- patiently, and often at great length -- have made him hugely popular and virtually unbeatable. And let's face it, the growth issues that were so divisive just a year or two ago -- wouldn't we all like to be fighting about them now?