During his first campaign for governor in 2008, then-Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory said there was a culture of intimidation in state government, with local mayors afraid to question the status quo in Raleigh.
Some Charlotte Democrats charged Friday that now-Gov. McCrory is practicing what he once preached against. They said the governor, a Republican, threatened the city with the loss of light-rail funding if it builds a streetcar with property tax dollars.
He talked about the politics of intimidation during his campaign, said Democrat John Autry, who supports building a streetcar. I found it interesting that it seemed to me that he was meddling in local affairs.
State Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat who chairs the Mecklenburg delegation, said he was appalled by McCrorys comments about the possible loss of Lynx Blue Line funding. He said the governors comments would hold Blue Line money hostage and dishonor the commitment the state made to the city.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who succeeded McCrory in 2009, said Thursday that he was outraged.
The City Councils two Republicans, however, defended McCrory, saying he was right to inject himself into local politics.
If you are asking the state to partner in funding transit, the state wants to know how you are spending your own money on transit, said council member Warren Cooksey, who opposes building a streetcar.
Andy Dulin, who also opposes the streetcar, supported McCrory.
As the governor of the state, hes in charge of the money, Dulin said. He gets a say if the people of North Carolina are going to put money into the Blue Line.
McCrory spokesman Chris Walker said Thursday that the governors message wasnt a threat. He said the governor was trying to tell the city that state budgets are tight and that the city must be aware that paying for the streetcar through property taxes sends the wrong message to the legislature.
He also said McCrory is committed to building the Lynx Blue Line extension to University City. The $1.1 billion light-rail extension to UNC-Charlotte is set to open in 2017. The N.C. Department of Transportation has agreed to pay 25 percent of the cost.
However, the General Assembly changed the way it would finance the line last year. Instead of large payments during construction, the N.C. DOT would pay the city roughly $25 million a year, according to Dana Fenton, the citys lobbyist.
The General Assembly could vote to take that money away.
Meeting on Panthers
On Monday, Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble and City Attorney Bob Hagemann met with McCrory about the Carolina Panthers request for the city and state to help fund renovations to Bank of America Stadium. At the end of the meeting, McCrory referenced the citys plans to extend a starter streetcar line.
He said to us that if the streetcar project were to go forward as currently proposed, future State funding for the Blue Line Extension could be at risk, according to a memo from Kimble and Hagemann to Foxx and City Council members Thursday. When we pointed out that we, as staff, do not have a vote on the matter, the Governor responded by noting that our bosses do, and that by telling us he would assume that we will relay this point of view to them.
In addition to the light-rail extension, the city has started construction on a 1.5-mile starter streetcar line from Time Warner Cable Arena to Presbyterian Hospital. The city has proposed spending $119 million to extend that line to Johnson C. Smith University and along Hawthorne Lane.
McCrory supported the 2002 and 2006 long-range transit plans that included the streetcar.
But in 2009, the city assumed control of the project because the Charlotte Area Transit System didnt have enough money to build it. McCrory objected, saying the city shouldnt go outside of the half-cent sales tax to build the line.
McCrory, however, had supported a plan would have funded a commuter train to Lake Norman by using new property taxes generated from the lines construction. Foxx, who was then on the City Council, was an ardent supporter of the streetcar.
Critical of Raleigh
During his 14 years as Charlotte mayor, McCrory at times railed against state government in Raleigh, which was controlled by Democratic governors and a Democratic General Assembly.
His message: Local government can solve problems if Raleigh gives it the resources and keeps politics at arms length.
In 2007, he led a caravan to the capital to fight for more money for criminal justice. In 2009, McCrory wrote a letter to the Observers editorial page defending his sometimes-confrontational approach with state government. He said he would never participate in what he called Raleighs closed-fisted culture.
When he ran for governor in 2008, McCrory said he had been told not complain about problems with the N.C. Department of Transportation because it could lead to retribution.
Ive been told, Mayor, dont complain anymore about the DOT and the lack of roads or the efficiency of DOT because ... you will not only not get what you need, but youll lose what you have, McCrory said at the time.
He added: Theres a culture where you dont complain publicly. Everyone knows it.
Local Democrats said McCrory was breaking from those beliefs in weighing in on the citys consideration of using property tax dollars to build the streetcar.
Democratic council member David Howard said he is concerned that McCrory has been campaigning against the streetcar for months. Howard believes McCrorys opposition led to the citys inability to pass a $926 million capital plan in June. That plan included $119 million for the streetcar.
Autry also questioned whether McCrorys opposition helped defeat the capital budget.
Was there manipulation, intimidation, what have you? Autry said.
Last summer, after the council defeated the capital plan, McCrory told the Observer that the vote against it was courageous. He said at the time that he played no part in the debate.
Ive always made a point of staying out of local politics, he said. I figure 14 years is enough. I agree with the majority of City Council, who made what I think is a courageous vote.