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Head-on collision 

Mayor's caravan alienates some

It's not something you'd think would be controversial.

Mayor Pat McCrory is taking victims of crime to the state legislature Feb. 13 to lobby for more criminal justice funding for Charlotte, which three months ago was ranked the eighth most dangerous large city in the nation.

Charlotte City Council member Warren Turner didn't think twice when McCrory gave him a front-and-center position before the television cameras last week at the mayor's press conference on crime. Because Turner is the chairman of the city's public safety committee, which oversees crime and policing issues, that made sense to him.

But since then, Turner's been "ridiculed" and criticized by his colleagues, he says. The problem, Turner found out, is that he's a Democrat, McCrory is a Republican and this is a municipal election year in which the Democrats had hoped to take out McCrory, for starters.

"Maybe he (McCrory) has political ambitions and this is part of some kind of show-and-tell, but as you can well tell I'm not too impressed with it," says Democrat state house representative Beverly Earle.

Some Democrat members of the Charlotte City Council aren't sure what to make of the whole thing, either.

"I certainly support efforts to increase state funding for the criminal justice system, but it is hard to know where the line is between politics and policy on this caravan," says city council member Anthony Foxx.

Mostly, council members and state legislators say they're miffed that McCrory didn't invite them to go along and, to them, it looks like he's hogging all the limelight. And Turner is getting the evil eye from his Democratic colleagues for going along with it.

"I think it is disrespectful for the mayor to organize something to come up here to Raleigh and not even discuss it with us first or to put in a formal request of what he wants," says Earle.

To Democrat Becky Carney, it's more subtle than that. The mayor has been around long enough to know how things work at the legislature, she says. If you don't lobby for something you want with the state legislators from your county -- they are called a county's "legislative delegation" -- and clear it with them ahead of time, it can appear to them and to other legislators that you are attacking your own delegation.

"It is just hard to get out ahead of your delegation up here," said Carney. "We love people to come up here and lobby, but to do it with us."

McCrory did invite the council, along with the public, to ride up to Raleigh with his "caravan" at recent council and legislative meetings. He also sent personal letters to each member of the legislative delegation to let them know he was coming and why. But that's not the same as a personal invitation, they say, and it doesn't mean the mayor cleared the message with them.

McCrory says he's not buying it. Last year, when he went up to the legislature with a coalition of other mayors, most of whom were Democrats, he didn't hear these kind of complaints. The lobbying resulted in more resources for the criminal justice system, including a dozen new prosecutors. But the system is so underfunded, McCrory says, that it only brings Charlotte's justice system up to 1984 levels, based on crime and population. A report two years ago showed that other cities like Portland and Austin have a third more prosecutors than Mecklenburg does and nearly twice the court support staff. In North Carolina, local cities pay for police, but the state is supposed to pay for the courts.

"We've attempted to lobby for funding the other way for a decade and we feel we have been ineffective in getting our point across and thus we are bringing in more of a grassroots coalition to express our concerns," says McCrory.

And the Democratic majority doesn't seem to mind other groups, like those who recently oppose the death penalty, showing up to lobby, McCrory claims.

"Last week, we had a guy get killed robbing a McDonalds who was out on bail for murder," McCrory says. "The situation is cause for drastic measures and strong feedback. I need to be able to more effectively respond to the victims and to the police that are getting demoralized about us arresting the same people over and over again and being let back out on the street."

McCrory says he is aware of the criticism his political approach is causing.

"Warren Turner is getting blasted," says McCrory. "This is the inside game. We have a lot of Democrats who do not want more jails. We have a difference in philosophies here."

McCrory didn't let Republican legislators off the hook, either.

"The public assumes the criminal justice system ends at the arrest and I think some people in Raleigh like it that way," says McCrory. "I think a lot of people in Raleigh want to avoid letting the public know what the legislature's responsibility is in funding of the criminal justice system."

Still, it is an election year, and some say the mayor should have known better. Whatever the case, McCrory's current strategy for the caravan appears to be alienating legislators, the opposite of the effect it was intended to have.

"Him coming down here it makes it appear that we are not doing our job when we're here fighting for what we need," says Earle. "We should not be working against each other. If there is a point he is trying to make, he is not going about it in the right way."

Turner is frustrated, too. He says the city needs to forget partisan politics and act now or it will continue down the well-worn path taken by other big cities.

"I don't know how this thing has turned into this war, this turf battle about party and personal agenda," says Turner. "My concern and my concern only is public safety."

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