Earlier this year, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker was giving off an "I'm out of here soon" vibe that indicated his current, fourth term would be his last. He certainly thought about it, telling friends that after eight years, he'd like to concentrate on his law practice and his family and be done with the incessant demands of mayoral politics and public relations. (For which Raleigh, a city of almost 400,000, pays the mayor $15,000 a year.) "It's getting close to the time for me to leave," he told the Indy in January.
But on Monday, Meeker announced that he will be on the ballot again in October, running for a record-tying (with the late Avery Upchurch) fifth term. Meeker attributed the change of heart to feeling obliged to stay with the job through the bad economic times, rather than unloading the unpleasant task of balancing Raleigh's budget—which may require a tax hike or service cuts a few months after the election—on someone else. (Meeker's all but ruled out a tax hike for fiscal 2009-10.)
And despite his open invitation for "someone else" to get in the race, from January to April, no one did. Political observers note that the two City Council members closest to Meeker's centrist philosophy, Nancy McFarlane and Mary-Ann Baldwin, are just in their second year in office and still learning their way around City Hall. For others, it may be a case of too much responsibility with too little power or salary: As Meeker acknowledged Monday, the public often looks to him for action though he "doesn't have the authority to solve the problem."
In Raleigh's form of government, the mayor and council function like a board of directors, Meeker said, with the city manager acting as chief executive officer and policymaker. Beefing up the mayor's power and the council's, he added, should be the subject of "community discussion," though with Raleigh's high ratings as a place to live and do business, "it seems our system is working pretty well."
Still, it's the case that Meeker, a Democrat, was literally unopposed for re-election in '07 and hasn't faced a tough opponent since ousting Republican incumbent Paul Coble in '01.
Meeker said that, if re-elected, he'll help to lead a campaign for regional bus and rail transportation in the Triangle, including enactment of a half-cent sales tax for transit in Wake, Durham and Orange counties. He predicted the General Assembly will pass the bill to authorize the tax in the current session.
But none of the three counties should take the tax to the voters, Meeker warned, until all three are ready to do so. That probably won't be until 2010 at the earliest, he said. But the chances for voter approval will be much improved if the three vote at the same time, not in separate elections. "This really is a regional market," Meeker said, "and the plan only makes sense if all three counties work together."
This story was first published April 10 on CitiZen, the Indy's Raleigh blog.