A Tale of Two Ex-Charlotte Mayors

McCrory and Foxx: passing each other on the political hillside. Which one's ascending?
N.C. Office of the Governor

Trying to get a handle on the week:

The ramrodding of, and subsequent outrage over, House Bill 695 through the N.C. Senate this past week seems to have finally vaulted the Republicans’ kidnapping of North Carolina’s public policy into its deserved position as one of the biggest political stories in the country.

The protests over the regressive bill — perversely titled the “Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act” — landed North Carolina not just where you’d expect, such as MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (video clip below), but The Washington Post, USA Today, Slate, even Fox News Channel. The nation knows now, to a degree it hasn’t before, that a gang of extremists has taken over North Carolina politics, and they’re prepared to use tactics as rancid as their policies to get what they want.

I think the legislature crossed a certain line last week — the line beyond which they won’t be able to hang on to any but the most florid ultraconservatives in the state. You can tell by the sheer intensity of the reaction to the Senate’s passage of the bill and Gov. McCrory’s tepid response to the entire affair: “When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business. It was not right then and it is not right now. Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough.”


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It’s worth noting that the bill would become law after 10 days anyway if McCrory doesn’t sign it. He’d have to veto it to force a vote to override. So his weak “condemnation” of the Senate’s action carries little weight — and reveals the dimensions of the corner he’s painted himself into. (And House Speaker Thom Tillis, too, in his run for U.S. Senate, as the N&O’s John Frank writes.)

Simply, there’s no way McCrory wins here. He could veto the bill, which would alienate the far right and probably result in an override, exposing his lack of leadership over the extreme elements in his own party. He could just let it become law without his signature, which would show how extraneous he is. He could sign the bill, casting him forever in the role of either misogynistic Rick Perry of the East or feeble acquiescent to the far right he seems to have sold his soul to.

Whether he likes it or not, he’s going to be hogtied to this bunch forever unless he does something drastic — which, honestly, I wouldn’t bet on. It might seem odd to write a political epitaph for a guy seven months into his term as governor, but let’s at least start composing a draft:

“Pat McCrory is a guy who in less than a year squandered 20 years of good will among people of both parties in his home city by throwing in with the Off Their Meds Party as governor — and served one term during which he presided over the disembowelment of the state of North Carolina.”

Will revise if needed, but let’s just say I’m confident enough to use ink.

Speaking of former Charlotte mayors, Anthony Foxx’s valedictory speech at the Government Center on Monday was surprisingly forceful and eloquent, more policy review and justification than simple farewell.

And he wasn’t shy about taking a couple of indirect jabs at McCrory and those who questioned his commitment to his hometown and his priorities — he was by no means a perfect mayor, but it takes a real hard case to look at this guy and see someone stupid or lazy or ipso facto unworthy of the job. (Of course, the same statement could apply to Foxx’s new boss. There is, perhaps, a connection.)

If nothing else, we can remember Foxx’s three-plus years as mayor as a time when the city had to face some new realities — an end to the boom years of the 1990s and 2000s, the city’s continued growth running into the limit of annexable land and a need to develop the poor east and west sides of town — and the mayor, thankfully, leveled with us, accepted those realities and stood behind some solutions.

The streetcar project is the one Foxx will be remembered for, an endeavor that may or may not succeed spectacularly but isn’t the outrageous boondoggle his critics maintained. (By the way, the Observer’s editorial on Foxx’s departure included this bitchy line on Foxx and the streetcar: “Like a kid asking for dessert, he wouldn’t let it go.” Funny, I don’t recall the CO e-board being that snarky about McCrory and light rail, or Lynn Wheeler and the uptown arena.) Ultimately, Foxx was and continues to be right — the city has to inject value into the east and west sides or suffer from ever-higher tax rates, not to mention impoverishment in two big chunks of the city that don’t have to be poor. Revitalizing the economically challenged corridors of Charlotte has been one of Foxx’s big passions since he was first elected to the City Council in 2005, and you can see results already along Wilkinson Boulevard, among other places. If they and others develop in the coming years — against skeptics’ myopic expectations — we can credit Foxx, maybe more than anyone.

So he deserved this last shot on his way out the door, this decorous mic-drop: “There will never be a disagreement that I love this city and have worked my tail off to make it everything it can be.” He did. I wish him well. We all should.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest