From the Editor

Drescher: McCrory, keep your mayoral spirit; get things done

Executive EditorJanuary 4, 2013 

A 1949 photo of Kerr Scott (left) and Gregg Cherry and Scott's inauguration.

1949 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

For the past 17 years, since he was first elected to Charlotte’s top municipal office, Pat McCrory has been called “Mayor.”

Starting Saturday, when he is sworn in as the state’s top executive, McCrory will be addressed as “Governor.”

That might sound better. After all, North Carolina has hundreds of mayors and only one governor. Indeed, McCrory will enter rarefied political air. While the self-important show horses in the U.S. Senate consider themselves the nation’s most exclusive political club, there are 100 U.S. senators and only 50 sitting governors.

Still, despite the gaudy new title, McCrory and North Carolina might be best served if he continues to think of himself as Mayor McCrory. That’s because mayors have to get things done, and North Carolina, now more than ever, needs a chief executive who can get things done.

Being mayor isn’t always glamorous. Mayors make sure the garbage and recyclables are picked up, the streets are smooth and cleared, the drinking water is clean and plentiful, and the police are alert and visible.

When no one notices local government carrying out these tasks – when there isn’t a serious problem – a mayor is probably doing his job well. But if a mayor doesn’t provide these basic government services at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer, he won’t be mayor for long.

Mayors are among the best and most creative public managers in America. While the federal government is gridlocked and states are hammered by budget cuts, mayors have taken the lead in solving problems and making life better for their constituents.

In Kansas City, Sly James has attracted technology startups by working with Google to provide Internet service 100 times faster than typical broadband. In Oklahoma City, Mick Cornett championed a public-health initiative that prompted residents to lose a collective 1 million pounds. In New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu has been a great cheerleader for public schools, where the dropout rate has been cut in half since Hurricane Katrina.

Those three mayors recently were named by Newsweek (with help from Stephen Goldsmith and Jayson White of Harvard’s Innovations in American Government Program) as among the most innovative mayors in America.

Mayor McCrory was similarly pragmatic and creative. “McCrory has become one of the marquee mayors in the country,” Malachi Greene, a former Democratic member of the Charlotte City Council, once said of McCrory, who led a national Republican mayors group.

Mayor McCrory added 366 police officers. He led the push for a downtown arena paid for in part with an existing hotel tax. He championed rail transit and paid for it with a half-cent sales tax.

Republicans in Charlotte were outnumbered 3-1 by Democrats and unaffiliated voters, but McCrory won election seven times with an average of 63 percent of the vote.

McCrory technically was a part-time mayor with a full-time city manager. But he was an active mayor in a fast-growing city who dealt with a variety of issues from homeland security to recruiting an NBA team.

North Carolina hasn’t had a former mayor serve as governor since Gregg Cherry of Gastonia did so from 1945 to 1949. As befits a former two-term mayor, Cherry’s gubernatorial inauguration address “was plain talk,” The News & Observer reported. “Just a straight-from-the-shoulder message on the state of the state and its future.”

Gov. Cherry expanded mental-health services and laid the groundwork for a massive road-building network that changed the state.

North Carolina’s governors have tended to come from the legislature or in the case of Jim Martin, from the U.S. House of Representatives. (Several of our governors had been lieutenant governor when that person, who presides over the state Senate, functioned as a top legislator.)

There’s a big difference between legislating (when you mostly talk about doing things) and governing (when you actually have to get things done).

Most of our governors have lacked executive experience. And it showed.

That’s not the case with McCrory. In terms of governing experience, his 14 years as a big-city mayor make him the best-prepared North Carolina governor in more than 50 years. Not since Luther Hodges, a former textile vice president who was governor from 1954 to 1961, has North Carolina had a governor with so much executive experience.

Perhaps McCrory’s goal should be to leave the Executive Mansion in eight years known as the Mayor of North Carolina.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com. Twitter: @john_drescher

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