We asked the seven Raleigh City Council members who will take office in December whom they're backing in the November 7 mayoral runoff. Only two would give a definitive answer.
Members Corey Branch, Russ Stephenson, Kay Crowder, and David Cox, all incumbents who earned new terms, chose not to make public their pick in the runoff between incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane and challenger Charles Francis. Newcomer Nicole Stewart joined them. Mostly, all maintained that the city will thrive in either instance.
Dickie Thompson says he is supporting three-term incumbent McFarlane. And newcomer Stefanie Mendell supports Francis.
McFarlane won the most votes in the first round of voting on October 10. But she did not receive a majority, so Francis was entitled to ask for a runoff. He took that option. Two council candidates who could have asked for runoffs turned down the chance, so every council seat except the mayor's
Why does it matter whom the members are backing? The person who takes the mayor's seat has to rely on like-minded members to pass any initiative by at least a 5–3 margin, because the mayor is, in some sense, only the first among equals on the eight-member board.
There's no built-in tie-breaking, as on the seven-member Wake County Commission or the nine-member Board of Education. And political affiliation isn't likely to sway council votes, as six members are Democrats and Cox is unaffiliated. (McFarlane is unaffiliated and Francis is a Democrat.)
On the eve of a Friday debate in what has become a more heated election as the runoff nears, an observer might think the council members were hedging their bets.
Plainspoken Dickie Thompson says he has at least two good reasons for backing McFarlane: "She's been my friend for thirty years and she's been a good mayor." Thompson, representing District A, also cited McFarlane's record of achievement in putting through the Dorothea Dix sale and other major projects.
Stefanie Mendell, who won the North Hills-area District E seat in an upset over longtime incumbent Bonner Gaylord, says she'll support Francis out of an agreement with his policy positions and their recent political association.
"Charles Francis and I supported each other in the first election, so I feel like I should stick with him," Mendell says.
Those who expressed no preference mostly said that they could work with either candidate for the good of Raleigh. But their answers shed some light on their policy directions.
"I've talked to both the mayor and the challenger since the runoff was announced, and I told them both very strongly that the way to get my vote is to run a positive campaign," says Stephenson. "I think the public will respond to the person who has the most positive campaign for the city's future."
District C representative Branch, in whose district Francis performed well, said he's not backing anyone publicly. "I think they both can bring value and benefit," he says. "Once everyone gets in, it'll work fine. "
Asked how rapidly Raleigh should be growing—one of the campaign's highest-profile issues—Branch says: "I don't think fast, slow. I want to know, 'Where are you talking about?' There are parts of the city that have not grown as fast as others.”
Cox, a computer scientist who represents District B, says he'll base his vote for mayor on signals given by the voters in his district.
"My primary concern regarding the runoff is who does District B think will work in the best interest of the district?" he says. “Looking at the results from October 10, one District B precinct voted for Paul Fitts. Five precincts voted for Nancy McFarlane. Twelve precincts voted for Charles Francis. Charles also won the vote total for District B. It would seem From the October 10th election that District B prefers Mr. Francis as someone who will work in the interest of the district. We will have to see if the runoff confirms that result."
Kay Crowder, the returning incumbent in District D, says either McFarlane or Francis could do a good job.
"I am going to work with whoever the people of Raleigh feel they need as their leader," Crowder says. "I think each person brings with them some skill sets the city could benefit from.
Nancy brings a lot of history on the successes we've had. Charles brings the ability to talk about some of the thornier issues, such as social justice."