Saturday, July 13, 2013 12:00 AM
Governor’s words in Wilson spark statewide controversy
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
Gov. Pat McCrory’s words are under the media microscope as critics accuse him of lying about mingling with Moral Monday protesters.
The governor’s remarks in a Wilson Times story Thursday set off a firestorm of controversy. His communications director said Friday that he’s spoken to demonstrators outside the legislative building on many occasions.
"Gov. Pat McCrory interacts with many people, including protesters,” spokeswoman Kim Genardo said in a statement. "Every day, he walks to and from work, to meetings in government buildings and throughout the city of Raleigh. When possible, the governor will stop and chat with the people of North Carolina.”
McCrory’s words in a Wilson Times interview led many to believe he’d claimed to have walked through the crowd during Moral Monday protests. The General Assembly police chief and the state NAACP chapter that organizes the weekly protests said they haven’t seen McCrory in the crowds.
"We have not seen nor heard from the governor,” the Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said in an email to the Times. "And his description of Moral Monday once again reveals he hasn’t seen or chosen to really listen to us, but instead, continues to be dismissive of the very citizens he was elected to serve, which is disrespectful to the purpose of his office as governor.”
McCrory raised eyebrows across the Tar Heel State when he said he "go(es) out into the crowd all the time” in response to a question about the Moral Monday protests. Dozens of newspapers, television stations, websites and blogs reported the statement.
The Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer of Raleigh featured the story prominently on their websites Friday. Pundits poked fun at McCrory for the dubious claim, with editorial page editor Allen Johnson of the Greensboro News & Record asking sardonically, "Does he moonlight as a ninja?”
Left-leaning commentators like Chris Fitzsimon of the progressive N.C. Policy Watch skewered the governor. Civil rights blogger Thurman Hubbard said McCrory’s attendance at the Monday protests against the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s social policies would not have gone unnoticed.
"I have been present at three of the last four Moral Monday protests,” Hubbard wrote, "and as others have already pointed out, with so many cameras running at every event, if McCrory had been ‘in the crowd,’ not only would it have been recorded, it would have been widely reported.”
McCrory’s Moral Monday quote inspired a parody Twitter account, @patwasthere, which features crude cutouts of McCrory digitally added to iconic images like The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover and the toppling of the Berlin Wall.
North Carolina’s governor appears on the balcony with Pope Francis on the beach with the Wright Brothers and in a scene from the much-buzzed-about television movie "Sharknado.” The account racked up 367 followers in the 24 hours since it was created.
Times reporter Janet Conner-Knox interviewed McCrory while he was in Wilson to announce that Wells Fargo had expanded its agribusiness team and would make more loans to eastern North Carolina farmers.
At 9 minutes and 27 seconds into the taped interview, she asks McCrory if he’d agree to meet with Moral Monday protesters.
"Folks at Moral Monday — growing, diverse group of folks,” Conner-Knox said in the recorded interview. "Are you ever going to give them an audience?”
"Listen, I go out into the crowd all the time,” McCrory replied. "In fact, frankly, yesterday I went out and talked to several of them and they were not very respectful. They did not represent the majority of people who call themselves moral by cussing me out. But, you know, that’s the way things go sometimes. But I welcome, I welcome protesters. What I don’t accept is when they break the law.”
McCrory may have been referencing a Tuesday abortion protest when he said "yesterday” during the Wednesday interview, Genardo said. She called the Times’ quotations "absolutely accurate.”
McCrory went on to say that he participated in Raleigh protests when he served as mayor of Charlotte.
"I welcome protesters, we welcome their feedback from all parts of the state, from all political divisions,” he said. "They’re talking about 30 or 40 different issues, many different, diverse groups, which are fine. But I don’t accept them blocking public — the democratic business from being done. And that’s the only difference I have. I welcome their input, I welcome their feedback, but I don’t agree with them breaking the law and taking up valuable resources, local resources in that area, to have to take them to jail.”
Hundreds of Moral Monday protesters have been arrested after refusing to leave the legislative building. Many anticipated the arrests and call their refusal to disperse an act of civil disobedience.
Some pundits like Mitch Kokai of the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation said McCrory was probably speaking generally about his interactions with protesters and didn’t mean to imply he’d mingled with Moral Monday crowds.
"It’s hard for me to believe he was trying to say, ‘I go out into this official Moral Monday crowd all the time,’ because there would be so many ways to prove that wrong or right,” Kokai said. "I don’t think it was an overt attempt to deceive at all.”
Kokai predicted the controversy surrounding McCrory’s words would be chalked up to a misunderstanding and quickly die down.
"I don’t think it’s going to be a major controversy unless the governor makes it so,” he said. "If the governor made some sort of statement that seemed to suggest, ‘Yes, I was at the official Moral Monday protest and you should have seen me, because I was there,’ then I think it would continue to live on.”
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