Pat McCrory: The unlikely resurrection of unconventional Republican

by Jordan Green

Possible gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory surprised Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight (photo by Jordan Green)

It`s hardly a secret that former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory is contemplating a possible a rematch next year with Democrat Beverly Perdue, who defeated him in the race for governor in 2008. The once and perhaps future Republican candidate is doing nothing to discourage speculation.

“I’m not going to say anything, but I think he may be running for governor again,” Guilford County Republican Party Chair Bill Wright told a capacity crowd at the local party’s Reagan Day Dinner in Greensboro on March 5.

Judging by the standing ovation and rapturous applause that greeted McCrory, Guilford County Republicans appeared to view him as the right man to lead the state ticket and attempt to consolidate last year’s electoral gains as Republicans took control of both houses of the legislature.

“I hope I will be running, but I don’t have to make that decision right now,” McCrory said earlier in the evening as he greeted party activists lining up for a piece of giant cake presented to honor the former president’s 100th birthday. “And part of these invitations are helping me get a gauge of what the reaction would be if I did announce.”

After finishing his dinner, McCrory stepped down from his honored place on the dais and snuck up behind a seated Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight. Knight gave a start as McCrory upended a bottle and poured beer into the Greensboro mayor’s glass. After exchanging quick pleasantries, McCrory made his way over to visit an elderly couple from Jamestown.

McCrory graduated from Ragsdale High School in Jamestown, and his family attended First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro. During his speech, he joked that as a teenager he couldn’t visit Daddy-O’s, a disco on High Point Road that is now called Plush Night Life, because he lacked ample chest hair to display with a shirt unbuttoned to just above his navel. Speaking with his elderly friends from Jamestown, McCrory lamented that his parents’ home had fallen into disrepair since their death. The eccentric woman who purchased the house from his parents had taken to wearing his mother’s clothes, McCrory said, and now vandals had stripped the place’s copper gutters.

“It’s very sentimental for me, especially seeing several couples here who were very close to my parents,” he said in an interview. “It’s very difficult to go by my old home. It has great memories. I mean, I’m home right here. I grew up a mile and a half from where we’re standing when a lot of this was dirt fields off of High Point Road. I will consider the Jamestown-Greensboro area to be always my home.”

Republican leaders in North Carolina know their party will have an uphill battle in next year’s presidential election year with the Democratic National Convention coming to Charlotte and likely pumping up enthusiasm in an electorate that already leans Democratic. But the Democrat’s choice of selecting Charlotte also gives McCrory a strong card to play if he is selected as his party’s choice to challenge Beverly Perdue.

“There’s two things they won’t tell the national audience,” McCrory said. “One is that this city actually had a Republican mayor for the last 14 years. They’ll keep quiet about that because they’ve only had a Democratic mayor now for the past 13 months. And the second thing the president won’t tell you is they’re in a right-to-work city in a right-to-work state. And by God, it’s gonna stay that way.”

That line riffed off of the Democratic National Committee’s preference towards union labor, along with Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to take away state employees’ ability to use collective bargaining in Wisconsin.

McCrory said he believes Perdue squandered her first two years as governor and has only begun to exercise leadership in fiscal policy now that she has to work with a Republican-controlled legislature. McCrory urged Republican activists to join a cam paign

to persuade four holdout lawmakers in the NC House to overturn the governor’s veto of legislation seeking to exempt North Carolina from provisions of federal healthcare reform. He denounced the governor’s veto of a bill that would have reduced economic development funds to help pay teachers. The former Charlotte mayor also championed two Republican causes: Lifting the cap on charter schools and requiring voters to produce ID.

As a public speaker, McCrory can be poignant.

While cleaning out the Charlotte mayor’s office in 2009, McCrory said one of the last things he boxed up was a photo of his dad.

His father had been fighting cancer when McCrory was first elected mayor in 1995, but came down to Charlotte against doctor’s orders. McCrory said he had been out late celebrating his victory, and received a phone call from his father the next morning at 7 o’clock saying that he wanted to see the mayor’s office. McCrory and his siblings went to pick their father up. The mayor-elect put his father behind the desk and took a picture.

“And that picture remained my entire 14 years behind my chair,” McCrory told the audience in Greensboro. “I looked at it every single day because he always said, ‘Make me proud. Make me proud and don’t do anything stupid while you’re here either.’ And my dad died a week after I was elected mayor.”

McCrory can also be funny, a trait not shared by all politicians.

He told a story about a speech by President Bush about four years ago in which a Secret Service agent quietly instructed McCrory to go backstage. The Secret Service had mistaken McCrory for US Sen. Richard Burr, who needed to catch a ride back to the airport with the president. McCrory played along so that he would be able to enjoy the experience of riding in a limousine with Bush. He said the limousine took them out on the runway. Bush embarked on Air Force One. Burr hopped in another car to go to the terminal to catch a commercial flight. And McCrory found himself standing alone on the runway.

“The reason I’m telling you this story is that in 2008 myself and many other candidates felt stranded after election night,” McCrory said. “We brushed off our pants. We swallowed our pride, like I had to do when walking back from Air Force One, held my head up like that’s the way it’s supposed to work. And we got to work.”