For Pat McCrory, it was a triumphant but sentimental return.
North Carolinas new governor returned Wednesday to the place his political career began, and to a warm reception from people whod been a part of it. If you want to continue to call me Mayor Pat, thats fine with me, he told around 300 mostly familiar faces in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center lobby.
The visit ended a whirlwind tour of four cities for the former Charlotte mayor that he sandwiched between last weekends swearing-in and Saturdays inauguration.
This is a week of celebration, McCrory said. And one thing Ive realized is that you cant just listen to the people inside the beltline of Raleigh.
As he has elsewhere, he met separately in Charlotte with local officials. In the same room he convened Charlotte City Council workshops for 14 years, he spoke to nearly 100 elected officials and community leaders from Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.
In a give-and-take session that lasted about 45 minutes, he said he backed state support for Charlottes light-rail extension, listened to judges concerned about the loss of state drug courts and expressed support for as much local government control as possible.
He empathized with officials like Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray who complained about a lack of state funding.
Nothings changed, McCrory said. I remember that from 15, 20 years ago.
As if reciting a mantra, he made it clear that for now he can offer little more than sympathy. There is no new money thats going to come out of the sky, he repeated more than once. Weve got to work with what we have and do it better.
Wont comment on Medicaid
It was McCrorys effort to reach out that appeared to please some officials.
Hopefully we have someone who understands the urban issues a city like Charlotte faces, said Mayor Anthony Foxx. The major thing you want with a governor is a relationship. And Pat and I have one thats baked in.
McCrory declined to wade into an issue posing a particular headache for Mecklenburg County: Medicaid.
The state has decided to transfer responsibilities for the countys Medicaid money for mental health services to a private agency. At stake is oversight of $235 million in federal, state and county money. Mecklenburg commissioners voted Tuesday to fight the states decision.
McCrory said a possible lawsuit prevented him from discussing the issue.
We look forward to an ongoing dialog especially with county officials, he said.
The visit marked McCrorys first visit to the Government Center since leaving office for the last time in December 2009. More than once he waxed nostalgic.
As he was led to the second-floor governors office that he helped open in 2009, he said, I cut the ribbon for Gov. (Bev) Perdue.
Spotting Police Chief Rodney Monroe, he interrupted a media interview. Call the police call the damn police will you, he joked before greeting the chief hed helped hire.
Group protests fundraising
Before the reception, a small group of protesters gathered across the street in Marshall Park with signs such as Access for Sale. Spokesman Justin Guillory said while McCrory campaigned as a reformer, hed brought a culture of pay-to-play.
He cited in particular a new group called the Foundation for North Carolina. The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported that the foundation is wooing donors with a chance to rub elbows with the new governor along with special memberships for $25,000 and $50,000.
I made no commitment to access to any particular group, McCrory later told a reporter. Im giving access all day today and all week.
Speaking to supporters in the lobby, McCrory gave a shoutout to his predecessor as mayor, Republican Richard Vinroot, who also ran for governor.
And one of the people who shared a stage with McCrory was the last Republican governor, Jim Martin. Said Martin: I never got to introduce a real governor before.