From the ashes

Published 11:40 pm Friday, May 4, 2007

By Staff
At the end of the day, even the most powerful man in the state Senate is just that — a man. But people who wonder why State Senate Pro Tem Marc Basnight has been afforded the power that he has in the state Senate need look no further than a statement he made this week after his family’s restaurant was reduced to ashes.
A fire after midnight Tuesday gutted Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe, leaving behind only a cinder block room where fish were cleaned and an office just above it, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Faced with more than $1 million in losses, including family items, vintage photographs and decoys, Basnight said he would, indeed, rebuild.
And he went a step farther.
“I’d like to start tomorrow,” the Pilot quoted him as saying.
It’s that kind of presence that the Manteo Democrat takes with him to the Legislature, his supporters have said. Not just an “I’ll do it” stance, but the “I’ll do it better than you thought I might” stance. It’s part of the reason his fellow Democrats endorsed him as the Senate leader for a record eighth term.
While his naysayers say he wields too much power — his face is likely more recognized than the governor’s in this part of the state — his backers say he’s a man who gets things done. And regardless of their personal political leanings, most voters in this area are glad Basnight’s senatorial district includes Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties when they need someone to go to bat on their behalf.
People who shake their heads at Basnight’s perpetual success at the ballot box may need to look no farther than the skeleton of the restaurant to uncover some of the reason for that success.
Whenever the senator has been in Dare County, he has been a fixture, even a would-be waiter, at the restaurant. It was not unusual for a diner at the restaurant, which was on the causeway between Manteo and Nags Head, to have his or her seafood dinner delivered by the political powerhouse, or to have a water glass refilled by the man who seems to make legislation move when no one else can.
And while he did those things, he talked to the people he served. Any good politician would, of course. But Basnight seems to have mastered the appearance of staying in touch with the common man. At least it looks that way after the votes are counted.
Eight fire departments responded to the blaze that destroyed his family’s business and put about 100 people out of work. But knowing that he was coming back to a shell didn’t keep Basnight from driving home from Raleigh, and arriving on the Dare County scene about 4:40 a.m., according to the Pilot.
Say what one might about Basnight, his reaction after a personal tragedy shows why he’s still in power in North Carolina.
At the end of the day, he reacted with fierce, common-man determination — probably the same kind of determination that has made him a phoenix in the midst of heavy political ashes now and then.