Nancy McFarlane needed to get 50 percent plus one of the sixty-thousand-plus voters in Tuesday's municipal elections to remain in the Raleigh mayor's office without the possibility of a runoff.
However, a vigorous campaign by Democratic challenger Charles Francis won him enough votes to prevent an outright victory. Incumbent McFarlane bested Francis by more than six thousand votes but received 48.45 percent of the unofficial tally, with Francis earning nearly 37 percent, according to unofficial tallies.
Francis told WRAL that he would live to fight another day, but at eleven thirty p.m. the McFarlane campaign had not heard directly from Francis or any other source that he would definitely ask for another round of voting.
McFarlane, ending up a campaign event at a downtown restaurant, said she still hoped to avoid a runoff.
"It's hard because his language has been so divisive," she said. "It's one thing to have differences about policy but it's another thing to use inflammatory language that pits people against each other."
McFarlane continued to call for positive campaigning. But that could change, she said, if he persists in telling what she says are untruths. As an example, she said, Francis has called for a homestead property tax exemption for low-income older people when people in Raleigh can already get one.
Francis did not respond to attempts to reach him last night.
Republican Paul Fitts, viewed as a longshot, had nearly 15 percent of ballots with nearly all precincts reporting.
In the end, the Francis campaign came a significant distance in the four months since he announced his run.
Francis, fifty-four, has built a strong reputation among lawyers, bankers, and business people in Raleigh, but may have waited too long to enter a matchup with a popular mayor who has plenty of milestones to claim. He earned a lot of name recognition and buy-in in the four months that essentially make up the municipal campaign.
During McFarlane's campaign, she often noted her stewardship of the long, complicated negotiations that brought the Dorothea Dix property from the state to Raleigh's ownership for use as a "destination park." Also on her record are the in-progress Union Station, improvements in parks and greenways, and the affordable housing tax hike passed by city council during her tenure.
However, the mayor was politically vulnerable because of her long-time unaffiliated status in a largely Democratic city—Hillary Clinton got 57 percent of the Wake County vote in 2016, and the city tends to be more liberal than the county as a whole.
So it made sense for a highly motivated candidate from a strong Democratic background to take McFarlane on, gambling that Democrats would stay loyal to their party, not to the candidate whom they'd largely backed in previous elections. And Francis came out of the gate intensely, calling the mayor aloof and not in tune with large chunks of the local electorate.
He called for a different approach to affordable housing, a reduction in the property tax, and more support for the citizen advisory councils—neighborhood groups that have advised the council on zoning matters for decades. McFarlane's effort to revise the channels with a new community engagement board hit an unexpected wall of opposition.
The mayor stayed in Raleigh mode: low-keyed, yet firmly rooted. She seemed to see no percentage in getting in a slanging match with a magnetic, eloquent opponent.
As for Francis, he vowed he wasn't running to build his name recognition, as many suspected, but to serve as mayor. In any case, he leaves this fight as a much better known, clearly identified political figure. Whether he intends to keep pursuing that path between now and a November runoff was unknown early Wednesday.