Former Charlotte Mayor: ‘Welcome to Gitmo’

Pat McCrory was mayor of Charlotte from 1995 to 2009, and played a major role in building the Time Warner arena and Bank of America stadium that will host the Democratic convention this week. But don’t put him down as a big fan. “You’ll not meet many people from Charlotte here this week,” he told me yesterday. “The security is keeping everybody away. They wouldn’t even let me in this building — which is outside the security zone — until a local cop recognized me. Welcome to our Gitmo.”

Indeed, the security precautions I’ve seen so far put even the locked-down GOP convention in Tampa to shame. Local and federal security forces will be using 4,000 police, 500 cameras, and two helicopters with a live-video feed to ensure security.

McCrory is quick to say he is “proud the convention is here.” But he recalls the objections he raised to bringing any convention the size of a national political party to his city: “The people who wanted it worked around me and it was announced a year after I left office.”

You might think McCrory’s skepticism is founded on the fact that he is a Republican — indeed he happens to be the GOP candidate for governor this year and has a healthy lead over his Democratic opponent. But he insists his skepticism is grounded in the realities of what modern-day conventions really mean for a city after the hoopla dies down.

A former executive at Duke Energy, he wrote a memo to the host committee outlining four objections to having any party bring its show to Charlotte. First, the security imposed on a city in the post-9/11 environment changes the character of the whole convention experience and limits participation by locals. Second, properly measured the net economic impact of a party convention is almost always negative. Three, there is endless “fighting over the checkbook” between the host committee and national political players. And lastly, the image benefits to the city’s brand come with a high-risk that something will go wrong.

“Charlotte already has a good image, ranging from NASCAR to its role as a major banking center,” McCrory says. 

“So it is ironic that a party that loves to bash bankers is showing up here.”

McCrory will play a partisan role for part of the Charlotte convention. He showed up last night at a Republican kick-off event introducing the party’s “truth squad” that will work the convention. “I’m glad folks are spending all this money in Charlotte this week. But I do have to remind them this is the state with the fifth-highest unemployment in the country. Only California, New Jersey, Nevada, and Rhode Island are higher,” he told me after his brief speech. “So it will take a lot more than the Democratic convention to lift the economy here.”

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