Taylor Batten

A more-polished Anthony Foxx had the room buzzing

Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx delivers the keynote speech at the Community Building Initiative lunch last month.
Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx delivers the keynote speech at the Community Building Initiative lunch last month.

Anthony Foxx is starting to remind me a little of John Edwards.

No, his wife, Samara, has nothing to worry about. Unlike North Carolina’s former U.S. senator, Foxx isn’t sleeping with his videographer, as far as I know.

The resemblance is in the former Charlotte mayor’s growth as a polished political professional – and that growth could bode well for Foxx’s future, and Charlotte’s.

I’ve told the story before of having dinner with Edwards in 1997 when he was a political unknown mulling a sudden run for the Senate. He couldn’t even articulate why he was running. He’s a quick learner, though. He boned up on the issues, refined his campaigning skills and rose to prominence faster than you can say Two Americas.

That evolution came to mind last month as I listened to Foxx deliver the keynote speech at a 20th anniversary celebration for the Community Building Initiative, an effort to bridge racial and social divides in Charlotte.

I had lunch with Foxx in 2008 when he was a City Council member considering a run for mayor. He was green, still searching for his voice.

Fast forward, through four years as mayor and four years as U.S. secretary of transportation, to last month’s CBI luncheon. This was a Foxx who had clearly found his voice. His 34-minute speech was at times personal, at times funny, at times serious and at the end, prescriptive. He delivered a message with the kind of wisdom and authority he should have done more frequently as mayor. It was the kind of message, in fact, that you’d want to hear from your U.S. senator.

Foxx urged Charlotte to look in the mirror and be honest about the gulfs that separate us along racial and socioeconomic lines. He said he was in Japan when the Keith Scott protests rocked Charlotte.

“What struck me, despite all of our history locally and nationally, was how easily our frustrations can be understood in the context of protests and how difficult on the other hand it is for those same frustrations, concerns and hopes and aspirations to be understood in the context of making policy,” Foxx said.

Part of the problem, Foxx thinks, is Charlotte’s obsession with what others think of it. That blocks the city from being fully honest about its faults and addressing them.

“Why did it take Harvard University to tell us that we had an income mobility challenge?” Foxx asked the crowd of more than 800. “Where has our conscience been? And why did those who were telling us to focus on this issue for years and years and years, why were they not heard?

“I love this city, make no mistake, but it harbors an insecurity about itself that actually is a threat to its future.”

I asked Foxx last week whether he might run for U.S. Senate in 2020. He deflected my question. He still lives in Washington, D.C., and has just started a job in New York, with no plans to move back to Charlotte anytime soon. So he won’t immediately be the person to lead the city through the challenges he raised.

But he would tell you the person to lead us to a better community is you. And your friends and neighbors. It is all of us.

“We too often understate the value of what we can do to change the dynamic,” Foxx told me last week.

“Everyone is looking for some Superman figure to come in and point the way. But as I have experienced it, even a Superman or Superwoman is going to need an enlightened public that really understands what it takes to make that society that we all really want.”

He’s right. Let’s get on it.