In fine-food firing fracas, McCrory missed an opportunity to be magnanimous

The Charlotte ObserverFebruary 20, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer:

Gov. Pat McCrory is an avid golfer with a respectable handicap index of 14. But with the ball teed up nice and high, he flat out whiffed in Charlotte on Sunday.

The governor had a run-in with a cook at Reid’s Fine Foods grocery store. He could have come off as magnanimous. Instead, he reinforced his image as thin-skinned. He complained to the store owner, and the employee was fired within the hour.

Here’s what happened: McCrory was shopping at Reid’s in Myers Park. The cook, Drew Swope, asked him whether he needed any help. Swope, who disagrees with McCrory politically, then recognized to whom he was talking and said, “Oh, Pat McCrory, thanks for nothing,” and walked away.

Swope says McCrory then yelled at him. His security detail denies that. McCrory’s spokesman said Swope made an obscene gesture at McCrory. Swope denies that.

McCrory and his security team talked with the store owner, Tom Coker, about the encounter. Coker promptly fired Swope.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Swope acted inappropriately by treating a customer poorly. Coker had every right to fire him. This is not a question about free speech. Even Swope agrees with all that.

But that doesn’t absolve McCrory. Imagine how a sharp political adviser would have had the governor parlay the confrontation into a positive. Instead of coming across as petty, McCrory could have ignored Swope’s comment, or even embraced the opportunity for dialogue. He could have been forgiving and charitable – and be seen as the grown up in the room. Instead, he accidentally made national news again.

Carter Wrenn, the longtime Republican strategist for Sen. Jesse Helms and others, tells the story of when N.C. Rep. Joe Hunt (Jim Hunt’s uncle) was running for re-election. He was walking down a Greensboro street when a woman approached and chewed him out unmercifully, saying she wouldn’t vote for him if her life depended on it.

Joe doffed his hat and said, “Well, ma’am, I never reckoned it would be unanimous.”

“It was a better response” than McCrory’s, Wrenn says.

In other words, when you’re governor, criticism comes with the territory. And “thanks for nothing” isn’t even especially harsh criticism. Get over it. That he didn’t suggests a considerable amount of insecurity on McCrory’s part.

McCrory’s spokesman, Josh Ellis, didn’t do the governor any favors by arguing that Swope had earlier threatened bodily harm to McCrory in a posting on Facebook. Actually, he had suggested kicking an effigy of McCrory, not the real thing. Details, details.

McCrory, by the way, is not the only one who shouldn’t have jumped into the fray. Charlotte Mayor Pat Cannon offered to help Swope find a new job. He did not offer to individually help the tens of thousands of other unemployed Charlotteans find a job. How Cannon thought this charade could be seen as anything other than a blatant and useless political ploy is beyond us.

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