RALEIGH Decked out in diamonds and sequins, cummerbunds and bow ties, a crowd of more than 3,500 representing all corners of the state gathered Friday night to toast the new governor, Pat McCrory.
Charlotte, where McCrory served as mayor for 14 years before his first run for governor in 2008, was well represented in the mix of party-goers, who paid $150 or more for a chance to mix and mingle with the newly installed governor.
“This past week has been one of the most remarkable weeks of my life,” McCrory said, speaking of his statewide tour following his private official swearing-in a week ago.
“Tonight, we’re in our new hometown. I’ve got a four-year lease on a beautiful house down the street,” he said during the Gala Presentation, the second of the evening’s three events. “But we’re not going to spend a lot of time in that house. We’re going to spend lots of time throughout the state.”
The McCrorys appeared for only a few minutes at two of the three the events. Ann McCrory wore two floor-length gowns during the evening: first, a beaded black gown with cap sleeves and a high rounded neckline; then, a fitted beaded leopard print gown with extensive beading around the neck and black kitten heels.
During the Inaugural Ball, the last of the evening’s events, the couple danced to “Crazy Love,” a Van Morrison number covered by the Durham-based band Bull City Syndicate. The McCrorys danced cheek to cheek, the governor beaming as his wife smiled demurely. They were quickly joined by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and his wife, Alice, and former Gov. Bev Perdue and her husband.
Towering urns sprouting white-painted branches were stationed around the Raleigh Convention Center ballrooms.
Guests mingled around hor d’oeuvres tables with Southern specialties such as lobster macaroni and cheese, fried green tomatoes with Carolina pork barbecue and a cider vinegar reduction.
Food was free, but guests paid at the cash bar. Signs boasted a largely empty “social media lounge,” but Internet access cost $8.95.
Former U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick – wearing a fitted cobalt blue floor-length gown with a necklace of large pearls and colorful pendant – was there with her son, new Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, and her grandchildren.
“I’m very proud of him,” Myrick said.
Forest, who grew up in Charlotte, called the event “awesome.”
“Winning is better than losing,” he said.
Women wore floor-length gowns, many laden with large glittering diamond necklaces and hair updos. Designers ranged from Diane Von Furstenburg to Doncaster. Bow ties, cummerbunds and cuff links were de rigueur for the men.
James Gaither, a district attorney in Catawba County, came to the Governor’s Reception in a white tuxedo jacket with red bowtie and cummerbund, to coordinate with his wife Beth’s red sequin gown. He changed into a black jacket for the ball.
“I asked my wife, is there some secret protocol to go to a governor’s ball that would make it inappropriate to wear a white jacket?” he said. Deciding not, he went with the white.
During the Governor’s Gala Presentation, McCrory and crowd watched as video messages played on giant video monitors.
“I thank you for what you’ve done for our state. I thank you for what you’ve done for Charlotte,” said NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick of Charlotte.
McCrory had plenty of longtime friends in the crowd, as well as many who hoped to meet the new governor for the first time.
Charlotte interior designer Suellen Skach, a friend and contributor to McCrory’s campaigns, said she was thrilled.
“I’ve known Pat 10 years, and what you see is what you get,” Skach said. “He is such a fine man. I do see him in the White House one day.”
The Junior League of Raleigh, which has organized the Governor’s Inaugural Ball since 1933, expected about 3,500 to attend the evening’s events.
Most events Friday were open to the public. Tickets for the Gala Presentation, which included a concert by popular Concord folk-rock band The Avett Brothers, and the Inaugural Ball, went for $200. An earlier Governor’s Reception was invitation-only.
Early in the evening, McCrory cast all the spotlight on his wife, Ann.
“I’m just here to show off the first lady,” McCrory said upon taking the stage at the Governor’s Reception. Ann McCrory retreated to a private room behind the stage after being announced.
The governor stayed for a few minutes to greet guests.
“Didn’t my wife look great?” he asked the gathering. “She blew me away when she walked out of the bedroom” in her gown, McCrory said. “We made it a point to walk down the big staircase” in the governor’s mansion before leaving for the evening’s events, he said.
Staff writer Jim Morrill contributed.