Shortly after Democratic U.S. Rep. Mel Watt was named to a federal housing post last year, Curtis Osborne sized up the field hoping to replace him.
“I thought I could do just as good a job, if not better,” he says.
That’s how the 44-year-old Charlotte attorney came to make his first run for office as one of seven Democrats running in the 12th District.
A Monroe native, Osborne is nothing if not confident. A trial lawyer who’s been in Charlotte for a decade, he’s better known in legal than political or community circles.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
But no rival has invested as much into their campaign. He’s sunk more than $75,000 into his.
“You’ve got to be willing to put skin in the game,” he said a few weeks go. “If I can’t believe in myself, how can I expect someone else to believe in me?”
Osborne grew up in public housing in Monroe, raised by his divorced mother.
After graduating from Monroe High School, he went on to Virginia Military Institute but transferred after a year to N.C. State University, where he studied civil engineering.
He worked as an engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation before starting law school at N.C. Central University, financing his legal education in part with loans he says he’s still paying off.
“I come from the bottom, and life to me has been a challenge,” he says. “I just continue to move forward. Sometimes I never knew how to get from point A to point B. I just always believed if I had faith and kept working toward that goal, then if it’s meant to be it will happen.”
In 2001, after practicing law back in Monroe, Osborne went to Washington for a Master of Laws degree from George Washington University, where he studied litigation and alternative dispute resolution.
In 2002, he opened a law office in Washington, practicing employment and race and other discrimination cases. He returned to Charlotte two years later to open a solo practice.
He’s active professionally. He chairs the Minority Caucus of the American Association for Justice, a national trial lawyers group, and serves on the board of the N.C. Advocates for Justice. He’s also co-president of the Charlotte-area association of black attorneys.
Most of his cases generate little publicity – with one exception: In 2011 he represented a man who claimed then-Carolina Panthers’ linebacker Jon Beason punched him during a 2009 altercation at a strip club. Osborne called Beason “a walking weapon.”
The jury sided with Beason.
Osborne’s first major foray into politics took place at the Charlotte City Club in 2007, when he attended a fundraiser for an Illinois senator named Barack Obama.
Since then his involvement has consisted mainly of a handful of contributions to Democratic Party groups and candidates around the country.
In a field with several longtime officeholders, Osborne wants to make his political inexperience an asset. He’s running as a veteran – with eight years in the Army Reserve – and a small-business owner.
“I’m not a career politician,” he says. “I’m that person willing to provide that fresh perspective so many people are seeking.”