03/31/08 — McCrory wants to change Raleigh's attitude

View Archive

McCrory wants to change Raleigh's attitude

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 31, 2008 1:45 PM

For Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory there are few differences between the needs of eastern North Carolina, the Triangle and the mountains. To him, he said as he traveled through Goldsboro Friday, it's all one state.

"We're giving the same message all across the state, and that message is leadership. And I think our message is reaching across the state," he said. "What's good for North Carolina is what's good for each town and city."

Having jumped into the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in January -- nearly a year after some of his competitors -- McCrory explained that underlying the issues of crime, education and economic development is a need to change the culture of Raleigh.

The problem, he continued, is that the state government has become a place of "elitism and arrogance" -- a place where even the mayor of one of the state's biggest cities and a coalition of concerned community leaders can't get an audience with the governor to discuss issues of crime and gang violence.

"When the governor wouldn't meet with us, it struck me," McCrory said. "This state government is so closed, their backside is turned to the people."

And the effects of that, he continued, can be seen in several areas, including education, economic development and even military issues.

In his seventh term and 13th year as mayor, McCrory held that as Charlotte's chief executive -- the only mayor in the state with a veto power over his city council -- he's the best equipped to step up and fulfill the duties of governor.

"It's an executive office," he said of his current position.

And as such, that means that he has been responsible for presenting a budget, overseeing its implementation and leading a city of more than 660,000 people.

"The ultimate accountability has been on me. I've had experience in dealing with crises," he said. "I've been the final decision maker."

He also, he emphasized, has been the city's leading lobbyist and chief cheerleader -- two roles he believes the governor must also play for the whole state, especially in terms of economic development.

He explained that during his years as mayor, he's gone out himself to talk to businessmen, find out what they need in Charlotte and recruit them to the region.

And he believes the governor ought to be doing the same thing on a national and international basis.

"You need a salesman," he said.

But more than that, he added, the governor also needs to "tie our education policy with our job policy."

That means, McCrory explained, focusing educational dollars and efforts -- at all levels from high school to universities -- on those areas of the economy that need help.

In particular, he would like to see community colleges return, at least in part, to their roles as technical or vocational schools to help train the state's workforce.

"That's where our money ought to be going," he said. "But it's going where we have a volume of students, not a volume of need."

Rather, he explained that there needs to be more of an emphasis on training students to enter engineering fields, bio-tech fields and health fields.

More specifically, he would like to see each region of the state focus on its own strengths.

For example, in Charlotte, he said that he's helped push for more of an emphasis on engine and metal repair because of the NASCAR influence, which in turn has helped attract automotive and defense industries.

In the eastern part of the state, because of agricultural and health care strengths, he believes those are the areas it should focus on.

"You need to find the niche and what the true base of the region is, and then build upon that strength," McCrory said.

And as governor, his goal is for the state to help each region develop that kind of targeted economic development plan.

"That's what I've done as a mayor and that's what I'll do as a governor," he said. "We have a governor now with no strategic plan for economic development -- and by the way, he's a governor from this area (eastern North Carolina) and he's been invisible."

But it's that type of hands-on responsibility that he believes the governor should take, whether in terms of transportation -- "appointing (state Department of Transportation board members) based experience, not political fundraising abilities -- water issues -- facilitating cooperation between counties within river basins -- or in terms of military affairs.

"I look at the military the same way you treat businesses. You build a relationship. You don't sit in Raleigh. You get involved long before the next BRAC Commission is formed," he said. "The governor has got to get out of the office. The governor is the state's chief lobbyist."