The mayor of Charlotte is friends with Wynton Marsalis. And although you won't find Anthony Foxx headlining a concert at Lincoln Center, he has been known to pick up one of the Grammy winner's trumpets when the two are visiting in New York. Marsalis will tell amateur musician Foxx to "put it down" pretty quickly, Foxx said. But there are no hard feelings. Behind the desk the new mayor is making his own on the 15th floor of the government building sits a picture of Foxx with the man he met through a New Orleans friend.
While I'm no expert on former Mayor Pat McCrory's musical tastes (his Facebook page lists The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Guess Who), I don't quite see him jamming with a jazzman.
A different style has come to the mayor's office. But does style equal substance when it comes to policies to alleviate the disparities and lack of trust that -- despite progress -- still exist between races and communities in Charlotte?
From 1983 through 1987, Harvey Gantt served as Charlotte's mayor. Gradually and consistently since then, the city has seen African-Americans rise to leadership positions. (That's not to ignore the history of those -- such as Fred Alexander on city council -- who came before.) In 2010, it's hard not to notice diversity at the top. In the 2009 election Foxx won, Patrick Cannon and David Howard were elected to at-large seats on the city council. An incomplete list also includes: Police Chief Rodney Monroe; Carolyn Flowers, chief executive officer of Charlotte Area Transit System (as well as her predecessor Keith Parker); Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones; Ronnie Bryant, president and CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership; Debra Campbell, Charlotte-Mecklenburg planning director, and Charles Brown, director, Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. City council member Michael Barnes has announced plans to run for Mecklenburg County District Attorney.
Foxx said, "I think what's happening is individual talent and capabilities are being recognized on a scale that may be different than in the past." He acknowledged the sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others who helped remove the barriers that thwarted even modest ambitions of many citizens. "I grew up expecting to be successful, expecting to be able to walk through doors that had been closed for generations," said Foxx. "You've always had talented people who were African-American, but they couldn't thrive because of the glass ceiling."
Bill McCoy, retired director of UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, attended the victory party for Harvey Gantt's first mayoral win in the '80s. Said McCoy, 71, "It was one of the most enjoyable, wonderful things I ever participated in. That's when I decided to stay in Charlotte." He said, "Both Harvey and Anthony have the quality of being versed in the issues that affect the entire community."
"Charlotte is a town that embraces its diversity and is doing more and more by the day."
Jeff Michael, current director of the Urban Institute, agreed. "It's rather remarkable," particularly when compared to peer cities. It's especially impressive, he said, in a Southern city with its history of segregation and oppression.
Is the milestone important in other ways?
When Foxx was campaigning for the job he won in November, sometimes -- if you closed your eyes -- it was impossible to distinguish his stump speech from opponent John Lassiter's. Both candidates talked about the need for economic development and aiding small business. Both emphasized how they would make public safety a priority and improve cooperation with Raleigh. Both pledged -- with compassion and passion -- to help the homeless.
But when they spoke about the neighborhoods that never quite shared in the region's economic boom and how they would reverse that dynamic in troubled times, you could sense a divide. Anthony Foxx grew up in the area along Beatties Ford Road. He left to attend Davidson College and New York University School of Law. But he never forgot walking to West Charlotte High School. And he noticed "only a few cosmetic differences between the walk I took 20 years ago to high school and what Beatties Ford Road looks like today," he told me during the campaign.
"A lot of the problems we confront today require attention to a growing diverse community," Mayor Foxx said recently. "You can't ignore certain issues," he said, pointing, as an example, to the achievement gap in public schools.
Michael said, "I have been impressed with Mayor Foxx's desire to reach out and play some role in public education." It's ironic, he said, because in Charlotte the mayor has little to do with the schools. It is a critical public policy issue, and an area where the mayor can leave an important legacy. "School issues are charged with the issue of race," he said. And Foxx is someone Michael thinks has earned the trust of both blacks and whites.