Charlotte Mayor: Ready For The Democrats

President Obama was the first Democrat in a generation to win in North Carolina, in 2008. Now, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina is gearing up to launch the Democratic National Convention, beginning Tuesday. Host Michel Martin speaks with Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx about how his city is preparing.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, just as Republicans wrap up their party convention in Tampa, Florida, the Democrats are set to start theirs next week in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2008, when President Obama won that state, he became the first Democrat to do so in a generation, and Democrats hope that hosting the convention in Charlotte will help repeat that victory.

Anthony Foxx is the mayor of Charlotte and he's with us now.

Mr. Mayor, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us at this very busy time for you.

MAYOR ANTHONY FOXX: Thank you, Michel. Glad to be with you.

MARTIN: Are you ready?

FOXX: Yeah. Absolutely. We've got two great venues, our arena and our stadium. We've got more than 10,000 volunteers signed up and ready to go and we've got a great candidate for president.

MARTIN: Now you campaigned hard to get Charlotte selected as the host city. Could you just refresh our memory about why you wanted to do that?

FOXX: Well, we think that Charlotte is a great backdrop for this convention. We are an extremely resilient city. We've been through the economic highs and lows over many generations, from cotton milling to gold, to even now financial services and we're still bouncing back. This city has an ambitious spirit, just like the country, and it happens to be in a battleground state. And, of course, we believe that a lot of the backdrop of our city is very consistent with the president's work in terms of making great things possible for our country.

MARTIN: Well, I want to talk about both of those things for a minute, so first kind of the mega issue. Anytime a city hosts a big - a high profile event, whether it's the Olympics or a party convention or something like that, or a big multinational, you know, meeting, there's always the whole question of whether the benefits outweigh the hassle, you know, the traffic, the litter, the protests. Did I mention the traffic?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And I wanted to ask whether people in your city think it's going to be worth it.

FOXX: Oh, yeah. In fact, talking to people just on the street, whether they're Democrats or Republicans or independents, people know that this is a real turning point for our city. It's the first time this city and this state have hosted a major political convention, and it's the first time many people across the world will get to know Charlotte in an up close and personal way. And I don't think there is a - are many people if any in Charlotte that don't think this is a great thing for our city.

MARTIN: I understand that the mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, well, he told us last week that he was planning to talk to you and share any notes and thoughts, he had any tips to help you? Did he do that? Did he follow up? Did he tell you anything useful?

FOXX: Oh, I've left them alone for the couple of days. He's got to deal with the convention down there. But we will have an after action meeting probably on Friday or Saturday and I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

MARTIN: And probably serving him a gin and tonic or something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

FOXX: I've got an ice pack for him too.

MARTIN: An ice pack for him too.

You know, to that end, you talked about some of the national issues. Your state was narrowly divided in 2008. President Obama won by just 14,000 votes, if I have that right.

FOXX: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Do you think, do you hope that hosting the convention there will kind of enhance his chances in that state to repeat that victory?

FOXX: Yeah. I think 2008 is probably a good point to start with because in 2008 most of the polls had the president down for most of the campaign and some folks were very surprised that North Carolina turned in his favor for the first time in 32 years for a Democratic president. But, look, this race has been close all along in North Carolina. I expect that it will continue to be close all the way through November. I do expect the president to get a convention bounce. And I also know that his ground game in North Carolina is, as it was in 2008, extremely strong. And I don't see the evidence of Mitt Romney having the kind of energy on the ground that I think the president does.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin and I'm speaking with Anthony Foxx. He is the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. His city is hosting the Democratic National Convention, which will be meeting next week.

But there is also the continuing question about, you know, the fissures within the Democratic coalition. I mean the labor activists say that they were troubled by the selection of North Carolina or Charlotte within North Carolina because they say that labor is not as appreciated in North Carolina as they believe that it should be. Other activists are upset because the state a couple of months ago approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage after same-sex marriage was already not legal there, So people felt that that was kind of overkill. And particularly given that the Democratic platform we expect will embrace same-sex marriage, right? So what do you say to people within the Democratic coalition who say this just isn't reflective of the party's values?

FOXX: Well, I think that this selection of North Carolina was the president and the Democratic Party taking the offense and not playing defense in an election that everyone believes is going to be tight all the way through the end. And I think the president was smart to go to a state that the Republicans have traditionally believed that they had in their back pocket. And frankly, I don't see a situation in which Mitt Romney wins the election without winning North Carolina. So, you know, I understand that there are people who may question the decision, but I think the decision was a good one. And frankly, even for the interests of labor and others, they have a chance to come to North Carolina and make their case.

MARTIN: Well, you also mentioned that you feel that Charlotte in particular, North Carolina in general, exemplifies a lot of the issues that people are thinking about and talking about. The economy is certainly a central issue in this campaign. I understand that the latest figures from the Department of Labor show unemployment for the Charlotte metro area at 10 percent. That's above the national average of 8.3 percent. Does that, you know, does that unhappy fact in some ways make the Republican argument that they deserve an opportunity to fix things because the Democratic Party has not?

FOXX: Well, except for the fact that we're basically trying to do a lot of repair work on Republican policies. And frankly, one has to buttress the fact that you just mentioned, with the fact that we are the fastest-growing metro region in the country. And so, we believe some of the numbers that you just discussed are actually due to the fact that people are coming here because they do see opportunity. And, you know, as we are increasing the number of jobs on a net basis, we are also increasing our population, which is creating some of that percentage.

MARTIN: You spoke with us shortly after you won office back in 2009, and you told us then that the best help the government could give you would be growing green jobs, supporting small businesses and providing tax relief. And how has - I'd like to ask you - how has the administration done in those areas?

FOXX: I think the president has done a tremendous job, 18 small business tax cuts over the last three years. We've had two major grants given to companies that are in the green job space. Siemens produces natural gas turbines right here in southwest Charlotte, and they are doubling the size of their plant from about 650 workers to 1,800 workers over the next four or five years due to the expansions the government has made possible. And we have another company, Cell Guard, that helps produce a product that's used in the lithium ion batteries, 90 percent of which are exported across the world. And that company is opening two facilities in this area. So we believe that we are very well poised to be a green jobs center here in Charlotte and largely due to the president's foresight in helping us get there.

MARTIN: I understand that you will be speaking at the convention.

FOXX: Yeah. I think I'll get to say hello.

MARTIN: Can you give us a preview?

(LAUGHTER)

FOXX: Well...

MARTIN: A little hint?

FOXX: I know people around the country who know Charlotte know us as a business city and I want people to get a sense of this community's character and its strength. And I'll be talking about some of the softer parts of our city and give people more of a three dimensional view of Charlotte.

MARTIN: So have you finished your speech? Come on, you can tell us. Or are you going to be up all night cramming?

(LAUGHTER)

FOXX: Oh, it's going to be under construction probably until the last minute, but we're working on it.

MARTIN: Before you we let you go, you may have, if you've had a chance to listen to the program at all this week, you may have noticed we've been asking people what does success mean. It seems to us that success, what does it mean to be successful, to have a successful country seems to be one of the core issues in this election. We heard a lot during the course of the Republican National Convention about celebrating success. So I'd like to ask you, what's your definition of success and what does a successful country look like to you?

FOXX: I think a successful country is a country in which people can make choices regarding their lives, whether it is professional choices or choices to educate themselves, or choices to be involved in community and service. I really think that's really what we're after. We're a country that prides itself on its freedom but we all also have responsibilities to protect those freedoms, not only for ourselves but for others. And I think that success for our country, at this moment in time, means preparing this country so that future generations can make not only choices but good choices about the future of the country.

MARTIN: Anthony Foxx is the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, which will be hosting the Democratic convention next week. And he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule right now to join us from his office at city hall.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. Our best wishes for a successful convention.

FOXX: Thank you, Michel. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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