Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s announcement via video Wednesday that she will not seek a fifth term was abrupt but not really a surprise. She had indicated before the last election that she wanted one more term to get plans in place for the city’s new Dix Park and to wrap up a few other items on her to-do list.
As she ends her run, the mayor leaves an impressive list of accomplishments. The Dix master plan has been finalized, the new Union Station is open in a thriving Warehouse District, the city has committed annual funding to affordable housing, a new citywide development plan is in place, rapid bus transit systems and bike lanes are expanding and major building projects are planned or underway in and near downtown.
The 306-acre Dix Park, Raleigh’s Central Park, will be McFarlane’s monument. She did more than guide the project to completion. She kept it from being killed by a Republican-led legislature that had qualms about giving up the state property, is reflexively hostile toward the state’s cities and was annoyed that Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue tried to close the deal as she was leaving office. That McFarlane, an independent, managed to talk the legislature’s fire-breathers into going along is a wonder of political and personal diplomacy. Had she failed, Dix Park might be on its way to being a condo-office park development.
So thank you, Mayor McFarlane, for the obvious improvements to Raleigh you oversaw and the troubles you quietly prevented.
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But for all she did, the mayor left one emerging problem unresolved. She could not by pressure, guile or charm close a rift on the City Council that threatens the positive momentum former Mayor Charles Meeker set in motion and McFarlane maintained. City Council members have split over the pace and location of growth. McFarlane prefers to channel growth. Others want to slow it and, in some cases, block it from encroaching on established neighborhoods.
Some of the disagreement reflects genuine philosophical differences, but those differences have too often devolved into personal animosity and spite. It came to a head when Raleigh City Council member Kay Crowder told The News & Observer she was “verbally and physically assaulted” by McFarlane’s husband at the Raleigh Convention Center on Feb. 6 during a community meeting unveiling the Dix Park Master Plan. The mayor, having recently undergone back surgery, wasn’t there, and Ron McFarlane objected to what he saw as a snub by Crowder when she failed to include the mayor in thanking those who made the Dix master plan possible.
The mayor alluded to the incident in her video, saying: “The mean politics of Twitter and social media is painful when it’s about you or someone you love. This social disease has exploded since I first ran for City Council in 2007. Raleigh politics could use a reset.”
The real problem, of course, isn’t social media, but the petty mentality of some council members. Small-mindedness can not create a great city and it can diminish a good one. That is where Raleigh’s government is headed.
It’s regrettable that at the end of a strong tenure McFarlane felt compelled to say: “We used to fight together for the things we cared about. Now it just seems like we fight with each other.”
Now that fighting will become a contest to succeed McFarlane in this October’s election. We don’t expect an elevated discussion of what’s best for Raleigh. But once the election is decided, we hope a sense of common purpose and mutual respect will return to the governance of Raleigh.