Raleigh, N.C. — Republican Pat McCrory's latest ad in his race for governor is a biographical piece aimed at giving his credentials to voters. A woman with a down-home accent ticks off a list of milestones in McCrory's life as a montage of photos floats by on the screen.
McCrory, who is running against Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, points to his seven terms as Charlotte's mayor as a key point on his resume, and this latest commercial references that work. From the commercial's script:
"He was raised in Jamestown, grew up going to city council meetings with his dad. Then, Salisbury’s Catawba College. Worked in business almost thirty years.
"Became Charlotte’s longest-serving mayor, helping turn the region into a economic powerhouse. Adding tens of thousands of jobs. An ethical government, lowering crime and tax rates. That’s leadership Pat McCrory can bring North Carolina right now."
Three claims are both quantifiable and likely speak to McCrory's qualifications to be governor:
- Did Charlotte and the surrounding area really add tens of thousands of jobs during McCrory's tenure?
- Did crime rates fall during McCrory's terms in office and can he take credit?
- Did McCrory really lower tax rates during his time in office?
None of the claims would be rated false or misstatements, however at least two claims give the former mayor more credit than he may deserve.
The claim: McCrory helped "turn the region into a economic powerhouse. Adding tens of thousands of jobs."
Backup material provided by McCrory points to news reports in which economic developers praise his leadership. For what it's worth, the Dalton campaign points to another raft of news reports that question his leadership on economic issues. The phrase "economic powerhouse" is more term of art than quantifiable claim.
However, the Charlotte area did ad jobs while McCrory was mayor. McCrory's campaign cites figures showing the city of Charlotte added 62,000 net jobs between November 1995 and November of 2009. Figures obtained independently from the N.C. Division of Employment Security comport with that figure, showing that the metropolitan statistic area that Charlotte anchors added roughly 159,000 jobs during that time.
So can McCrory take credit for that growth?
"There are lots and lots of things that go into growing the economy," said John Connaughton, a professor of Financial Economics at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and an expert on the Mecklenburg-area economy. "There's no one thing that you can point to and say, 'yes, that caused it.'"
Charlotte's banking industry, for example, grew rapidly while McCrory was mayor, but that's not something for which any politician could claim credit.
McCrory, Connaughton said, certainly was a mayor who was focused on job creation. That said, all mayors of big city play a big part in recruiting companies and promoting economic success.
"He was a cheerleader, he met with people. He made them feel like, 'If I come to this city, I can be part of the political process. If I need to go and knock on the mayor's door, I can go knock on the mayor's door and he'll answer,' " Connaughton said.
However, even McCrory's own research shows how credit for any economic successes have to be shared. Companies like GMAC Financial Services, Johnson & Wales University, Husqvarna, and Electrolux all received incentives bankrolled by the state as well as city-led inducements when they relocated to Charlotte.
And the economic data was not entirely rosy during McCrory's tenure. Charlotte's population grew from 480,916 in 1995 to 711,717 in 2009, according to census figures compiled by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. Job creation did not keep pace with population growth, as reflected by the city's unemployment rate.
When McCrory took office in 1995, the Charlotte's unemployment rate was 2.9 percent. In December of 2009, Charlotte's unemployment rate was 10 percent, according to the N.C. Employment Security Commission.
Ricky Diaz, a campaign spokesman for McCrory, acknowledged the rise but said that on the whole Charlotte performed better or as well as the state. The statewide unemployment rate was 11.2 percent in December of 2009.
"The unemployment rate was still constantly lower than the statewide average," Diaz said.
Also, if McCrory can't take credit for Charlotte's boom times, it would be unfair to lay the blame for all the city's economic troubles at his doorstep. By late 2009, for example, problems in the banking sector that prompted the federal bailouts were well under way.
The claim: McCrory led a government that lowered the crime rate.
A quick look at N.C. Department of Justice crime statistics bolsters this claim. Reports from 1995 and 2009 show the overall number of crimes in the city going down at a time when Charlotte's population was growing.
But it's important to note that Charlotte was not unique during this period. North Carolina's overall violent crime rate dropped during that same period from 662.9 per 100,000 persons in 1995 to 417.2 per 100,000 in 2009.
"It was part of a broader pattern across the United States that began in the early to mid-1990s for most large cities," said Prof. Patricia McCall, who studies and teaches about criminology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University. "Most cities, especially big cities like Charlotte experienced a decrease."
Cities across the nation experienced a surge in violent crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, caused by a number of factors, including a drug turf battles and other social and economic factors, McCall said. She pointed to a chart that shows Charlotte's homicide rate rising and falling along with the U.S. homicide rate, a drop that began for the Queen City in 1994, according to uniform crime reporting numbers.
Academics are divided on why the decline in crime rates happened, but it would be hard for any single leader or policy to take the credit.
And there have been peaks and valleys over the years. Reports for Mecklenburg County show small but significant spikes in violent crime in 2006 and 2008.
Asked how McCrory played a part in lowering the overall crime rate over time, Diaz, McCrory's spokesman, said the former mayor played a part in increasing the number of police officers on the street. According to the campaign's figures, the number of officers went up by 21 percent during McCrory's tenure.
"That was something he was directly involved with," Diaz said.
However, the Charlotte Observer reported that while the overall number of officers rose under McCrory's leadership, the city's population grew more quickly. Dalton's campaign has pointed to news reports from the time that show he resisted raising the budget to pay for more officers on some occasions.
It's worth noting that both McCrory and Dalton have been endorsed by law enforcement groups. Dalton has the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police and Police Benevolent Association, while McCrory has backing from the North Carolina Troopers Association.
The claim: McCrory lowered taxes.
At first blush, the numbers don't appear to back up McCrory's claim on this point.
When he took office, the city's property tax rate was 42.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. That rate had risen to 45.86 cents per $100 of assessed value in 2009.
McCrory's backup material for the ad makes one specious claim, pointing to cuts made to the property taxes people paid in 1999 and 2004. Those cuts came as a result of revaluation, when the county tax assessors office updated the value of properties across the city. Because property values go up after such revaluations, cities almost always reduce the rates in those years.
However, McCrory does have a more solid claim to being a tax hawk. He vetoed budgets with tax increases in 2005 and 2006, although the city council overrode his 2006 veto.
Diaz points out that in 2004, 2005 and 2006, the city's tax rate was lower than it was in 1995 and it would have remained so if the council had not overrode McCrory's objection to the budget passed in 2006. And news reports from the time generally show that McCrory advocated for keeping property tax rates in check.
Dalton's campaign is critical of McCrory's tax record. Property taxes not withstanding, Dalton's campaign criticizes McCrory for backing an increase to the county's sales tax to support light rail in 1998. McCrory faced similar criticism in 2008 from Republican gubernatorial primary rivals, who said his light-rail support belied his credentials as a true conservative. At the time of the referendum, McCrory and other light-rail backers said the new tax was needed to provide for the city's growing transportation needs.
So is the ad truthful?
Up to a point, yes. It doesn't make any claims that don't have some basis in fact. However, experts we consulted say crime rates and the economy are subject to factors beyond any one individual’s ability to control or take credit for. McCrory's campaign staff emphasized the ad says the former mayor "helped" build the economy and is not trying to take sole credit, however it is McCrory's leadership that is the focal point of the assertion. As well, the ad doesn’t tell the whole story on McCrory’s tax record.