DNC Helped Recapture Charlotte's Magic

Anthony Foxx (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Mayor Anthony Foxx is exhausted, but in a good way, just like his city. Though last week's Democratic National Convention didn't run exactly as planned — turns out neither party is great at forecasting the weather — the sudden storms that periodically pummeled Charlotte, N.C., didn't dampen the spirit of the celebration heading into a tough November political race.

After Democrats chose Charlotte, there were questions about the city's ability to pull off such a major event. Unions wondered why its allies placed the convention in right-to-work North Carolina. Protesters objected to security measures that limited accessibility.


At the time, Foxx, 41, knew that the expected 35,000 visitors – national and international leaders, media and delegates — would be judging him as well. Charlotte's second African-American mayor, who touted his city as the perfect pick, has been tagged as a rising political star. With an opportunity to speak at the convention and a week as the city's most visible host, he had a lot on the line.

Sitting in an empty council chamber in the government center, Foxx was tired when he spoke with The Root on a recent Friday afternoon about his own future and the November chances of the president and friend he supports. That morning Foxx; his wife, Samara; and their two children, Hillary and Zachary, had said their goodbyes and posed for pictures at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base near Charlotte Douglas International Airport before President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama departed on Air Force One.

Foxx said that though "it's not going to be easy" for President Obama to repeat his narrow 2008 win in the state this fall, the enthusiasm for the president during convention week proved to media who were "writing North Carolina off" that the state "is actually competitive."

The Root: What is your morning-after evaluation of convention week?

Anthony Foxx: Regardless of how people are going to vote in the fall, everyone in Charlotte was proud of our city for hosting this event and understood it as a turning point for this city in much the same way that Atlanta in '88 [with the Democratic convention] was a turning point for that city. I walked down the streets often enough and felt the energy from our own residents who were milling about with the people who were coming in for the convention, and the hospitality that Charlotte showed this convention and these visitors spoke volumes about the kind of community we are.


TR: Were you disappointed with the inclement weather?

AF: Well, Mother Nature is definitely one of those things we don't control. Every convention has its share of novel situations. I wouldn't have predicted that we'd have four days of wet weather happen during this particular week. Part of what we have to do with a convention like this is roll with the punches, and [the organizers] made a good decision not to host the event [Obama's acceptance speech] at the stadium. It's better to be safe than sorry.


TR: What did hosting the convention mean for Charlotte?

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AF: I feel like this event helped us recapture a bit of the magic of our city, which is this idea that we can do whatever we put our minds to. That was the same spirit that got us in the NBA in the 1980s and the NFL in the 1990s, and it's the same kind of hubris that this community used to fuel the growth of our financial sector.


I like our city when we have a bit of an edge, when we're reaching for something beyond reach in some respects. Our city thrives when we're told we can't do something. We actually use it as motivation. We've found our center again, a sense that this city is still on the uptick, a sense that the city can still choose its path forward. All we have to do is work together to get there.

TR: How do you think others judged it?

AF: I spoke to the president briefly this morning, and he and the first family were overwhelmed by the hospitality Charlotte and North Carolina showed them. They knew this convention was a big lift, and they expressed their appreciation for our willingness to go after it and do a great job with it.


People walked away with the sense that we are not a nondescript Anytown USA place, that we do have a unique character and quality. Some of that has come through the friendliness of our people; some of it has come through the fact that we didn't have major hiccups with the management of this event …

I don't doubt that they [Democrats and the Obama campaign] felt great about Charlotte as a choice. For all of the chirping by the national media about Charlotte coming into the convention, it exceeded the wildest expectations of most of the media people I came into contact with and, I would venture to say, delegates and others.


TR: What's next for you, and what are your short- and long-term aspirations?

AF: It's a good question. But the truth is, this week for me has been much more about leaving the right impression of our city on people's minds. The best way I can talk about our city is to talk about my own experience.


My ambitions to go into politics in the first place were always guided by a desire to see this city do well and to be even more true to its essential spirit. This event has given us a rediscovered confidence in our ability to tackle things, so I want to keep tackling things.

TR: You have said that the part of this convention you were most looking forward to was seeing your 95-year-old grandmother watching the president's speech, knowing all she had to put up with in her life to make it possible for you to become mayor. What did she think?


AF: She was there every night and … her biggest reaction was a feeling of pride in Charlotte. She's lived here since 1961; she's lived in North Carolina since 1917. So she's seen this state go through so many different transitions. Some of those transitions were directly in the center of things that affected her: water fountains, schools, buses.

The fact that people were talking about our city all over the world, the fact that she was there to see the president accept the renomination of his party, she said she never thought she'd see the day. She saw the day.


TR: What were some of your convention highlights?

AF: Gabby Giffords was amazing. You'd have to not be breathing to miss the emotional weight of her being able to come out here and do the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, the big speeches from the first lady … and Julián Castro, my friend and dynamic mayor of San Antonio, to President Clinton, who is still one of the great storytellers not only in politics but in any kind of oratory. He's got an amazing gift in how to integrate facts, figures and storytelling. And then the president and vice president.


None of those speeches can be seen in isolation; they are all cumulative. The DNC did a wonderful job in creating the narrative that will set the election up over the next 60 days. I don't think the Republicans did such a good job of creating that narrative for themselves, but we'll see what the public thinks in the fall.

TR: What are the results of your legacy projects that strive to leave a mark on Charlotte after the convention has left town?


AF: I'm proud of the host-committee staff for getting kids integrated into the convention. I don't know exactly what the result of that will be, but I'm convinced that we will connect more young people to their ambitions for having done this.

This is the first convention in the history of conventions to have a diversity aspect to its procurement. We have, through this convention, helped to make our city more sustainable, and that's something we should celebrate.


And finally, with the first lady's childhood-obesity initiative, we adopted a goal for us and we've planted 12 community gardens around the city in places that don't have as ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables. We've continued to work with the broader community to get information out about how to live more healthy lifestyles. I've even lost a few pounds, too.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to the Washington Post "She the People" blog, The Root, Fox News Charlotte and Creative Loafing. She has worked at the New York Times and Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.


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Mary C. Curtis is a Roll Call columnist and contributor to NPR and NBCBLK. She has worked at the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Charlotte Observer and Politics Daily and as a contributor to the Washington Post. She is a senior facilitator for the OpEd Project at Cornell and Yale universities. Follow her on Twitter.

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