An approaching snowstorm forced organizers to trim Saturday night’s sprawling Inaugural Ball festivities at N.C. State University and squeeze them into a much smaller venue downtown on Friday night, where celebrants heralded the return of a Democratic governor in North Carolina after four years.
Gov. Roy Cooper attended the abridged version of the Junior League of Raleigh’s ball at Marbles Kids Museum, which was chosen to coincide with a previously scheduled reception for statewide officeholders.
The scaled-down event was part of the solution to several days of scrambling, first to finish outdoor staging areas for ceremonies and a parade, then to cancel the parade and move inaugural events inside and finally to cancel Saturday’s public events.
The Junior League held off until Friday morning to cancel Saturday’s reception, gala and ball; the decision came soon after Cooper delivered a televised storm update and advised people to stay off the roads.
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Cooper had been scheduled to deliver an inaugural address during Saturday’s daytime events. Instead, he will deliver the remarks from the Executive Mansion at 10:30 a.m. on television, but that won’t be open to the public. UNC-TV’s North Carolina channel will break into its programming to carry it live, and other stations will be allowed to carry that feed.
On Friday afternoon, Cooper and the other nine elected statewide executive officers who comprise the Council of State were ceremonially sworn in at the mansion. They had already taken their oaths and officially assumed their offices earlier in the week.
State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin administered the oath to Cooper; Cooper’s wife, Kristin, held the Bible, and the three Cooper daughters stood by.
“Welcome to your house,” Cooper said in brief remarks. “We’re going to live here, but this is the house of the people of North Carolina, and we couldn’t be more honored and humbled to be here, and be the first family of this state.”
A prayer service Friday morning went on as scheduled.
By 6 p.m. Friday, a line stretched down the block waiting to enter the museum for the ball. The museum was filling up as a string quartet performed.
Two years in the planning, the ball events were to be attended by about 3,000 people, with contracts struck for “countless” vendors, according to the organization.
The Junior League was criticized on social media for changing plans, for not canceling plans and for not giving refunds. The organization said as a nonprofit group, it was not in a position to refund the money raised from selling tickets at $160 each, having already incurred expenses.
John Burns, a Wake County commissioner, tweeted a string of criticism: “The ball could have been postponed to a later date,” he wrote in one tweet. “It could have been canceled with refunds. This is not the right way to handle it.”
Tera Simon of Raleigh, who graduated from NCSU in 2002, tweeted that she planned to stay home after finding out about 11:30 a.m. it had been moved and changed.
“It’s a disappointment,” Simon said. “Being able to go to my college and celebrate a governor I voted for was something I was really looking forward to.”
She wasn’t just upset about purchasing a ticket that couldn’t be refunded – she also scheduled hair and makeup appointments and her husband rented a tuxedo.
“It’s not the same event. You’re not getting the experience you paid for,” Simon said.
“Similar to many large-scale events, expenses have already been incurred,” Junior League spokeswoman Elizabeth Hamner said Friday afternoon. “We are excited to host guests at tonight’s events and hope you will be able to join us.”
Attempting to reschedule such a massive event was impossible, the organization said.
Junior League president Rebecca Ayers echoed the feelings of disappointment at the last-minute changes.
“It was either do it tonight or not do it at all,” Ayers said at the event. “We’ve made the best of it. Only the Junior League could plan a ball in eight hours.”
Saturday night’s events included a performance by The Avett Brothers. The popular trio from Concord sang a pair of songs including “No Hard Feelings,” their latest single. They played for Gov. Pat McCrory’s inaugural four years ago.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest made brief upbeat remarks and recited a poem, receiving polite applause.
Cooper also addressed the crowd Saturday night.
“We’re going to work really hard to move North Carolina forward,” he said.
To Forest and Council of State, Cooper pledged: “We’re going to work together.”
At the swearing-in, Cooper thanked the Junior League and acknowledged the group’s frustration at the disruption brought by the weather.
The children who would have been in the inaugural parade will now have the day to play in the snow, he said.
“This is going to be a great weekend,” Cooper said. “We're going to have a great year in 2017 in North Carolina.”
Cooper mentioned the flurry of activity since he won the election. Former Gov. Pat McCrory and his allies raised voting challenges, and the Republican-dominated legislature convened for three special sessions, including one to pass laws limiting Cooper’s authority.
“It’s been an eventful time since Election Day,” Cooper said. “It's been an eventful time this first week of my governorship. But North Carolina is tenacious. North Carolina bounces back. I'm excited for the future.”
Staff writers Lynn Bonner, Colin Campbell and David Menconi contributed
Gov. Roy Cooper’s inaugural address
UNC-TV will carry the address live at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Other TV stations will be able to carry that feed if they choose.
UNC-TV’s North Carolina Channel can be seen on Time Warner Cable channel 1276 or viewed online at unc.tv/stream