Note: This is the first in a series of dispatches from the campaign trail. The Raleigh Report will chronicle candidate appearances on a regular basis. The election is Oct. 11.
Speaking to a conservative audience of Wake County Republican Women on Thursday, mayoral candidate Billie Redmond embraced the GOP mantras of less regulation and limited spending – but said Raleigh must invest in transportation, parks and technology to stay competitive with peer cities.
At a time of economic uncertainty, Raleigh's next leader should have a business background, Redmond told 60 people at a monthly luncheon.
“It’s time for us to take Raleigh back,” she said.
Also in the race are City Councilwoman Nancy McFarlane and Raleigh physician Randall Williams. The winner will succeed Mayor Charles Meeker, who will not seek a record sixth consecutive term. Filing opens Monday and runs through Aug. 12.
Making her first run for elected office, Redmond called it a “terrific advantage” that she has no political experience. She said her work in other U.S. markets illuminates a challenge facing Raleigh, which ranks near the top of many livable cities lists.
“The other cities want what we have,” she said. “They’re trying to take our companies away."
Redmond, a registered Republican, vowed to reduce wait times and regulatory hurdles for businesses navigating City Hall. Faced with debt obligations in coming years, the city may not be able to keep spending at the same rates in areas such as the arts, she said.
City Council members pulled $1.45 million from economic reserves to close a revenue shortfall in this year’s budget. They also agreed to continue supporting the arts at $4.50 per resident, after pleas from arts advocates who spoke against a proposed cut.
“The arts are an important part of our community,” Redmond said. “But we need to focus on the task at hand. We cannot afford all the things we want.”
McFarlane represents North Raleigh as District A representative. Elected in 2007, McFarlane has generally supported Meeker’s progressive agenda, centered on downtown revitalization, parks and greenway expansion and environmental protection.
McFarlane, who will run as an independent, also highlights her business background as founder of MedPro Rx, a pharmacy that provides infusion medications and services to clients with chronic illnesses.
Williams, the newest entrant, said Monday he is putting together a campaign plan and will host a formal kickoff in the next week. A self-described fiscal conservative, Williams said his goal is to keep taxes low and create a “favorable” climate for businesses.
In several of her answers to audience questions Thursday, Redmond strayed from Republican Party boilerplate – without going too far.
She applauded the city’s commitment to greenways, parks and open space, but said environmental policies are too burdensome. Raleigh is doing “a more regulated job than it might need to,” she said.
Redmond labeled herself as “one of the compromise people” on the future of the Dorothea Dix Hospital property. Many, including Mayor Charles Meeker, are pushing for the creation of a park at the site, which encompasses more than 300 acres just southwest of downtown.
But some in the legislature have advocated selling the rolling land around Dix Hill for real estate development, and putting proceeds into the Mental Health Trust Fund.
Redmond said she favors “thoughtful, considerate” development around the edges to generate revenue for a park on the interior. “I love the idea of the park,” Redmond said. “My next thought goes to, how do you pay for it?”
Redmond did not take a firm position on the city’s transit future. She called light rail a “very difficult economic model” that tends to lose money, and said Raleigh does not have highly populated urban centers needed to support trains.
But in the same answer, Redmond said she’s interested in exploring a federal match for a proposed downtown rail and transit hub, saying it could be a good deal for the city.
Transit officials say the old Dillon Supply steel fabrication building could be renovated for an initial cost of $20 million, though future expansion needs would push the price tag higher. The city's portion would be $3 million, with state and federal sources picking up the rest.
On the personal side, Redmond, who is 4-foot-11, told how she asked her husband to build her a special box to see above the podium. Redmond said she is putting together a prayer committee that will mobilize in the next few days.
“I’ve been told that I’m too nice to run for public office – I don’t have thick enough skin,” Redmond said. “But let me tell you, there are few businesswomen around who are as feisty as I am.”
Redmond and McFarlane are vying to become Raleigh’s second woman mayor. Isabella Cannon held the job from 1977 to 1979 after unseating incumbent Jyles Coggins in her first run for office.
Known as the “little old lady in tennis shoes,” Cannon is remembered as an advocate for her University Park neighborhood, where a park is named in her honor.