Politics and Progress in the New South
The Root explores where Obama, race and politics meet with Charlotte's young black mayor, Anthony Foxx.
President Barack Obama
Foxx is one of 24 public officials recently chosen to participate in the Aspen Institute's Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership program, which is focused on transcending political partisanship as it looks at issues of leadership and governance.
"Here's the thing," Foxx said. "We've been through battling each other over race as a country and getting into these skirmishes about welfare queens and all this other stuff." His generation is impatient with that kind of conversation: "You know, the one that's filled with vitriol and finger-pointing. We're much more interested in what's going to work ... And if somebody's got a good idea, we're going to encourage them to stop using the index finger and start using the pen to write it down."
The Art of Talking "Across Communities"
"It takes a deft touch to be able to talk across communities," Foxx said. "It's a challenge, and it's not going to get any easier." His challenger, Republican businessman Scott Stone, is attacking Foxx on the pace of job creation, an approach that fits into the national GOP narrative. (The Republican National Committee has released a radio ad in North Carolina and seven other states that Obama won in 2008 attacking his economic policies and leadership.)
"Whether I'm capable is really more an issue for me and for things that may or may not happen for me in the future," rather than a reflection on the president, Foxx said. He recalled that the first conversation he and Obama shared was not about politics but about family. "He was probably the first politician to tell me that the first thing I needed to do was to carve out time to spend with my kids and my wife."
Foxx pointed out that the main difference between him and Obama was educational background. Foxx, the first African-American student body president at Davidson College, said, "The Ivy League world is a different world than the Davidson-NYU [law school] world -- not better, just different."
Now, separately and together, their conversations are likely to be about the economy. Charlotte seeks to diversify its own economy after setbacks involving its foundation of big banks (Foxx sits on the advisory board of the executive committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors), and the state is looking for growth in innovative arenas.
Late last year, Obama spoke to students at a Winston-Salem community college with the state's largest biotechnology training program and found many seeking a new direction after the departure of textile and furniture industries. The president visited the state most recently on Sept. 14, when he toured a small business, touted his American Jobs Act and spoke to a packed house at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He will certainly be back before next September.