‘Magician’ Bev Perdue’s Beltway trick

by Jim Longworth

When I was a kid, my parents took me to New York City for summer vacation. One of the unexpected highlights of that trip was a visit to Macy’s, where a magician demonstrated many wondrous tricks. I purchased a few of the packaged prestidigitations, and tried them out on my buddies back home. But alas, I was a failure at sleight of hand.

That’s when I developed a real respect for anyone who can make things appear and disappear with the greatest of ease. And that’s why I tip my hat to North Carolina’s most accomplished trickster, Governor Bev Perdue.

While serving as a state senator, an insurance-fraud probe involving an alleged drunk-driving crash vanished into thin air without consequence. Later, as governor, a State Board of Elections probe disappeared before Perdue’s campaign manager could testify.

Perdue also made some Lottery monies vanish, then re-appear into the general fund. And shortly after taking office she attempted to make State Superintendent June Atkinson’s job disappear. Last week, appearing before a crowd of 300 elected and municipal officials at the Regional Transportation Summit, our state’s leading magician pulled a $34 million rabbit out of her hat, when she announced that the long awaited Northern Beltway project is a done deal.

One thing I learned at Macy’s is that you’re never supposed to reveal how a magic trick is performed, but the beltway matter is public domain, so I’m really not breaking any rules by exposing it. Here’s how it was done:

THE SET-UP: For as long as I can remember, area leaders have pushed for completion of a Northern Beltway that would alleviate congestion on US Highway 52. The proposed beltway would consist of two legs, one western and one eastern, the latter connecting US Highway 158 near Walkertown to Business Interstate 40 in Kernersville. To make last week’s trick work, Perduni the Great first had to check and make sure that the project was officially dead in the water. DOT gave her an assist by declaring it the lowest priority among state road projects. Armed with that information, Bev was able to gain the trust and cooperation of her audience, much a kin to saying, “See, there’s nothing up my sleeve”.

I tip my hat to North Carolina’s most accomplished trickster, Governor Bev Perdue.

RE-ANIMATION: with the beltway project seeming to have no chance of materializing, our magician was now in position to grant life to a dead object. Suddenly she waived her wand, and funding for the purchase of land along the eastern loop appeared out of nowhere.

DEFLECTION: In order for the trick to work, the audience was asked to suspend disbelief in thinking that the magically appropriated funds just happened to be freed up at that exact moment. Had they or the news media questioned that coincidence, then the entire illusion would have fallen apart, and that would have led to other questions which the governor would not have wanted to field. For example, Bev didn’t want anyone to notice the mathematical flaw in her presentation. Only one media outlet (the Kernersville News) pointed out that the $34 million will pay but for a small portion of the land needed to clear the way for construction. Attorney Matthew Bryant, who is seeking an appeal for his landowner clients told the Kernersville News that the state would need $300 million to acquire all of the properties, and that’s just for part of the eastern leg. In fact, property acquisition and construction for completion of the entire loop hasn’t even been calculated by the governor. Further, Perduni the Great didn’t level with her audience about right-of-ways, the exact placement of which can and will change as the project progresses, if in fact it does move forward.

TIMING: Timing is everything, especially in magic and politics. In this case, the twain met. Pat McCrory (Perdue’s nemesis and likely opponent next year) was at the summit and scheduled to speak right after the governor. Perdue is no match for Pat when it comes to oratory, so Madame Magician used her bully pulpit to dole out spoils which might help her get re-elected, never mind that the dole was based more on illusion than fact.

On their TV series, noted illusionists Penn and Teller like to expose all kinds of fraud, often targeting politicians. According to them, stage magic is all about deceiving the audience, and that’s what we witnessed by Perdue last week. Certainly this region needs the Northern Beltway, but it isn’t going to magically appear just because she said it will, nor will it be built as easily and cheaply as she represented. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to her biggest trick of all — making herself disappear from Raleigh next November.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).