Charlotte: A Vibrant Present, A Bright Future

Saturday, April 1, 2006 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Patrick McCrory, Mayor of Charlotte.

Editor: Mayor McCrory, would you tell our readers something about your professional background?

McCrory: I have lived in Charlotte for 28 years now. I graduated from Catawba College in 1978 and came to Charlotte to enter a management trainee program at Duke Energy Company. In time, I became both the recruitment manager and training director. In the late 1980s I decided to run for Charlotte City Council and, having been successful in that effort, six years later I ran for mayor. I am now entering my 11th year in that capacity.

Editor: Would you share with us the factors that went into your decision on a career in politics?

McCrory: At the time that I determined to run for city council, I approached the Chairman of Duke Energy. I told him that the company had gotten me involved in the community over the past ten years and that I wished to take this a step further. I had come to develop a deep affection for the Charlotte community, and I believed that I could make a real contribution if I became involved in the community's decision-making process. This is the basis for my decision to enter public service, and I think it derives from observing my father's service as a city council member in Worthington, Ohio as a child.

Editor: What are the responsibilities of the Mayor of Charlotte?

McCrory: Being mayor of a city such as Charlotte is somewhat similar to being chairman of the board of a major company. I have overall responsibility for setting city policy and setting the budget, and then communicating that policy and budget to the public and to the other governments, state and federal, to which the city is connected. One of the principal changes I have seen over the course of my terms as mayor is the increasing importance of my role as a spokesman for the city and as a lobbyist. Much of my work is directed at obtaining funding from a variety of state and federal agencies, and at least 30 percent of my time is devoted to recruiting - attracting new industry to Charlotte - and in retaining the business and industries that are already here.

Editor: You are now in an unprecedented sixth term as mayor. This is an extraordinary record, and it did not just happen. What are your thoughts about the reasons for this electoral success?

McCrory: I have attempted, as would the chairman of a major corporation, to do three things. One, I have tried to develop a long-term vision for Charlotte - extending out 10, 20, even 50 years into the future - and to communicate this vision to the community. Second, I have attempted to address the inevitable short-term crises in a way that does not let go of that long-term vision. Third, I have attempted to communicate. A good mayor is accessible, receptive and responsive to what he or she hears.

Editor: Please tell us about the high points of your tenure.

McCrory: There have been a number of high points, many associated with recruiting a number of major employers to Charlotte. This includes General Dynamics, Continental Tire and the culinary school of Johnson & Wales University. And retaining the major banking institutions already located here. The completion of a new arena was also a very significant milestone. I think I take the greatest satisfaction, however, in the development of a 25-year land use and transportation plan for future generations, which includes light rail.

Editor: And, obviously, there have been some difficult moments. Would you tell us about some of the challenges?

McCrory: During my first term, I was faced with a number of unexpected and tragic police shootings. Very high racial tensions were connected to this, and it was a situation which had a potential for violence. Through an extensive communication effort, we were able to avoid violence and, in time, rebound. We did retain the confidence of the people of Charlotte, but there were some very tense moments.

Another challenge, and a continuing one, has to do with homeland security. Following the tragedy of September 11, mayors and elected officials all across the country have had to address the issue of terrorism. Three years ago I was appointed to serve on President Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Committee. At the time I was first elected mayor the term homeland security - which is now part of our language and policy-making - was quite unknown.

Editor: what are the principal items on your agenda at the moment?

McCrory: I have three major items on my agenda at the moment. First, I must continue to develop the transportation infrastructure and land use planning needed for the future. I have looked at how many new cars we are going to have over the next 10 to 20 years, which is increasing at a rate that is 30 percent greater than our anticipated increase in population, and the roads, mass transit options, and even sidewalks must be sufficient to meet the demand if Charlotte is going to remain an attractive place to live and work. The second issue on my agenda has to do with youth gangs. This is something new for Charlotte, and I believe that it must be addressed at an early stage. The third area involves our ongoing economic development efforts. Bringing new jobs to Charlotte and retaining the ones we have is crucial to the health of this community. To that end, I am promoting regional economic development initiatives to ensure we are working with our nearby neighbors to achieve an end that will benefit all of us.

Editor: You have a particular interest in the environment. Would you tell us about some of your initiatives in this area?

McCrory: I am convinced that if we do not have a sound environmental policy for the long run we will not retain the quality of life we have in Charlotte today, which is extremely high. We have implemented aggressive policies to protect our incredible tree canopy, in addition to some excellent clean air and land use policies. The Catawba River goes right by Charlotte and constitutes our water supply. That is important not only as a source of water for drinking and recreation but also for our future industrial growth. In addressing these environmental issues, we are building for the future, ours and our children's.

Editor: Speaking of the quality of life, would you tell us about Charlotte as a place to live and work?

McCrory: I desire Charlotte to be a place that has big city opportunities, while retaining its small town values. A city with good options in education, housing, employment and transportation is going to be able to compete successfully with Dallas and Houston and Atlanta, even Frankfurt and Singapore. Part of the formula consists in convincing the people who move to this community that they have a stake in participating in the life of the community. We seem to be doing well in this area, particularly with respect to young people. At a time when many cities are losing their young people, Charlotte is attracting an increasing number of people in their 20s and 30s. They help to spread the word about the city and constitute our greatest asset in terms of promoting Charlotte as a great place to live and work.

Editor: I gather your administration has very good relations with the Charlotte business community.

McCrory: We do. I believe that each side of this equation has a strong interest in a constructive relationship. I meet with the Chamber of Commerce monthly to iron out any issues that might be standing in the way of the city's progress. Once a year Charlotte government and business leaders travel to another city in an educational and team-building exercise that has been going on for some 60 years.

Editor: Would you give us your thoughts about the development of the city and region over, say, the next five years?

McCrory: We expect to see dynamic change over the next few years, as we have in the recent past. One of the developments has to do with residential housing. Our central city has gone from about 2,000 residents to 10,000 over the past 10 years, and we expect that to increase by 1,000 in each of the next five years. We have two 50-story condominiums under construction at the moment. Attractive and affordable housing is one of the key elements in bringing young people to Charlotte, as well as empty-nesters. In the next few years we expect to witness the completion of a strong transportation system consisting of five corridors leading from our center city. The growth of our airport is also very high on the list: for a city of our size there is no single economic development tool that is as important as an airport. Finally, we propose to build on our NASCAR niche, which is a growing sports and entertainment industry and, we think, poised to bring more jobs to Charlotte. Almost 80 percent of the NASCAR teams reside within 60 miles of downtown Charlotte. This is an industry that translates into high-end, skilled jobs, and we believe that there is a spinoff of auxiliary jobs in the manufacturing and auto industries.

Editor: And your future? At some point you will hand over the mayoralty to someone else. When that occurs, what do you hope to have accomplished?

McCrory: I hope to have a smooth transition with a person possessed of the national, and now international, skills to build on the momentum we have created and take Charlotte into the bright future it deserves.