Raleigh's mayor isn't just a figurehead at civic ceremonies. She—or, depending on how things shake out next week, he—is the leader of a city council that decides how to spend nearly half a billion taxpayer dollars a year.
Those council members came to power in a 2015 election that brought out fewer than five thousand votes in one council district. Only 36,172 ballots put incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane in office for a third term.
In the municipal elections on October 10, McFarlane is bidding to remain in office for a fourth term, partly on the strength of general contentment with the city's direction, at least based on a community survey that showed that more than 90 percent of Raleigh residents were mostly or very happy with the state of things.
Opponent Charles Francis, a Raleigh native and lawyer, doesn't buy that most of Raleigh is satisfied with its government. He says the mayor is aloof, and Raleigh can do better. And he thinks increased turnout will help him overcome the mayor's popularity.
The party lines in this contest are complicated. Although McFarlane is backed by many prominent Democrats, the mayor is unaffiliated, part of a category of voters that outnumbers Republicans in Wake County. Francis, meanwhile, is a Democrat and has gained the endorsement of the county Democratic Party, which previously backed McFarlane. The race is officially nonpartisan, and it's not clear that party endorsement will matter much.
The race heated up this week, with both major candidates announcing increased war chests and spending. A victory for Francis would not only be a big upset—an incumbent mayor in Raleigh hasn't lost reelection since 2001, when Charles Meeker defeated Paul Coble—but would also mark something of a sea change in the normally steady Raleigh politics.
Here, in the INDY's last issue before the election, we profile the two leading candidates, an effort to give voters some last-minute insight on the two people who might lead the city for at least the next two years.