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As all else, North Carolina’s inauguration festivities derailed by COVID

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

Public inauguration festivities for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and other statewide elected officials will again be subdued.

In January 2017, after Cooper was first elected, approaching snow and sleet forced the cancellations of a public swearing-in ceremony and ensuing inaugural parade. Now, as Cooper begins his second term, the COVID-19 restrictions for mass gathering that he’s ordered mean those open-air events won’t happen next month. Neither will a traditional meet-and-greet of the public at the Executive Mansion.

Cooper’s office is assembling a low-key televised event for early January in which he and the other nine Council of State members can take their oaths in a safe environment.

“You have to adapt to the circumstances. We did in 2017 with the snowstorm, and we’ll do the same with the pandemic,” Cooper said in a December interview with The Associated Press.

There also won’t be an inaugural ball any time soon. The Junior League of Raleigh, which has hosted quadrennial inaugural galas since 1933, looks “forward to hosting a postponed celebration once leaders and experts advise it is safe to do so,” it said in a news release. Four years ago, the inaugural galas were consolidated and moved up by one day to avoid the winter storm.

The muted events mean Cooper won’t have the scope of celebrations that predecessors usually have had since the early 20th century. And he’s the only one who will miss out on them twice. North Carolina voters have only been able to elect a governor to two consecutive terms since 1977.

“It’s OK with me,” Cooper told the AP. “The great thing about this job is what you can do and the effect you can have on people’s lives. And I’d just as soon be working anyway.”

Cooper’s office said the small-scaled affair the morning of Jan. 9 in Raleigh will be televised statewide. Council members will be allowed to bring a few friends or family along.

The North Carolina Constitution says the terms of Council of State members begin Jan. 1 and continue until there’s a successor in place. There are three newcomers to the council in Lt. Gov.-elect Mark Robinson, incoming Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson and Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt. Nothing prevents them from holding private swearing-in ceremonies before the public event.

The Jan. 9 event also is expected to feature Cooper’s inaugural address, prerecorded entertainment and other elements designed it to make it memorable, according to Cooper’s staff.

“The goal is just not to do something that checks the bare minimums,” Cooper spokesperson Ford Porter said, but rather an event that can be appreciated by all North Carolina residents.

In 2017, an approaching storm forced officials to relocate public events. Cooper and the council took their oaths inside the cramped ballroom of the Executive Mansion. He delivered a TV-only address. Even with the planned public 2017 inauguration, Cooper still decided to officially get sworn in early Jan. 1 in a small ceremony so as to succeed immediately GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, whom Cooper narrowly beat in the election.

The tradition of grand gubernatorial inaugurations appeared to begin when Zebulon Vance, the governor during the Civil War, took the job again in 1877. His festivities continued despite a heavy snowstorm, according to the state Office of Archives and History.

Heavy rains during the 1889 swearing-in of Daniel Fowle forced the event into a warehouse. During the depths of the Great Depression in 1933, the legislature appropriated just $600 — the equivalent of $12,100 today — toward the inauguration of Gov. John C. B. Ehringhaus, state researchers wrote in a brief history of inaugurations.

Recently public swearing-in ceremonies have been most often held in front of the state Archives Building. But they’ve also been held on Bicentennial Plaza, at Broughton High School and in front of the old Capitol Building, as McCrory did in 2013.

The 2021 ceremony likely will be remembered, however, thanks to how COVID-19 affected it.

“However manifested, the inauguration of our governor is an important signal of the continuance of government for North Carolina and its citizens,” state archives spokesperson Michele Walker said.

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