by John Grooms
Five former Charlotte mayors got together on stage Tuesday night at Central Piedmont Community College, and, as expected, nothing much happened. It was the kind of event Charlotte's elite luvluvluv - a patented, Old-School Charlotte "Let's get a few VIPs together and watch them ramble in vague terms about a variety of subjects, and pretend the whole thing is a valuable community meeting" kind of gabfest.
Gov. Pat McCrory, Richard Vinroot, Sue Myrick, Harvey Gantt and Eddie Knox sat onstage at the Halton Theater event at CPCC. Mayor Foxx, who was busy preparing for his confirmation hearing as U.S. Transportation Secretary, gave a pre-recorded video introductory pep talk about big changes Charlotte is facing, such as a shrinking tax base. Until emcee Steve Crump of WBTV brought up the airport authority issue, Foxx's video was the most exciting part of the evening.
Otherwise, the "discussion" brought bland agreement among the former mayors that ... ready? ... Charlotte is changing. Who'd a-thunk, huh? And you know what? Those changes are bringing "challenges." Man, I think I just felt a tingle go up my leg from all the insights. And that's not all. The former mayors also agreed that something hinky is going on with the city's traditional business/politics power matrix. In other words, they bemoaned the fact that Hugh McColl and other local business bigwigs don't tell them what to do anymore - in so many words, that is.
Once the airport authority brouhaha was raised, the energy level rose somewhat, with Gantt slamming McCrory for going about the airport-authority issue in an underhanded way. Vinroot said the whole process stank, but he pointed out to Gantt that the airport authority wasn't McCrory's idea, even though it's McCrory allies in the General Assembly that proposed the change. And that was pretty much it for highlights. Except maybe for the snickers inspired by Sue Myrick who, after retiring from a congressional career marked by hateful rants against immigrants and Muslims, noted that somehow politics "have gotten meaner" in Charlotte. "We need to be nice again," concluded the nationally infamous anti-immigrant crusader.
The underlying assumption of these kinds of confabs is that a heavy grouping of experienced "city leaders" will inspire ordinary citizens and peons, simply by the sheer force of the leaders' know-how and sharp perspectives. As with most such gatherings, however - be it top bankers, top pols, top non-profits, or top what-have-you - this one was most striking for some of the participants' high self-regard, and less notable for valuable "lessons learned" from the participants. At least it was free.