Charlotte mayor: "We make it possible"

(CBS NEWS) CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx sees the Democratic National Convention that begins next week as a turning point for the city he has called home for all 41 of his years.

"It's actually the first time many people across the country will get an opportunity to know Charlotte the way I know it," Foxx told CBS News in an interview this week.

We spoke to him in the City Council chamber where he began his political career at age 34. "I think public service is a calling and you do it as long as the things that brought you into the office can continue getting you up in the morning and as long as there's still work to get done," Foxx said.

Three years ago, at 39, Foxx was elected the city's first Democratic mayor in 22 years, and the city's second-ever black mayor after Harvey Gantt. Foxx was re-elected last year.

With 770,000 residents, Charlotte is the Tar Heel State's most populous city. The Charlotte/Mecklenburg County metropolitan area has 1.8 million people, half a million of whom arrived in the past decade. It is the fastest growing urbanized area in the U.S. The mayor says its motto is: "We make it possible."

"People are coming here because they see opportunity, they see a community in which you can get involved and really just have a great quality of life," Foxx said. "It's centrally located in the state, a couple hours away from the mountains, a couple hours from the beach. It's just a place that people come and it really feels like home."

Charlotte is best known as the banking capital of the New South and the home of NASCAR auto racing. The metro area is also the headquarters of eight Fortune 500 companies: Bank of America, Bank of America, Lowe's stores, Nucor steel, Duke Energy, Family Dollar stores, Sonic auto dealers, Domtar paper, and SPX electronics.

But Charlotte's economic trajectory was jolted by the Great Recession. The city lost 27,000 jobs in the two years before Foxx was elected in 2009. Jobs have come back, but unemployment is stuck at 10 percent. Foxx is focused on growing other sectors of the local economy, like energy.

"We don't have the luxury right now of focusing on the short term. Every decision we make is a long term decision," Foxx said. "We've been able to manage the budget in the city without a tax increase over the last three years that have really been tough for all public budgets, but we've done it by working together and that's what this country needs right now are leaders that are thinking not just about next year, but about the next 20 years."

Foxx's vision of Charlotte's future includes expanding the light rail lines that run for 10 miles throughout the city and carry 16-thousand riders a day. The transit stations have been a catalyst for residential development.

"It creates jobs right now," Foxx said. "It also creates better mobility choices. In a community like ours where there's a struggle with air quality, it also provides environmental benefits."

Foxx says the city is prepared to host the convention, which he calls "a big dinner party" for 35,000 people expected to visit.

"This is like a quarter of a NASCAR race or something. We're going to be just fine," he said.

"What I'm most looking forward to is having my 95-year-old grandmother there to watch the president accept the nomination," Foxx said. "She grew up in a small town in North Carolina, she had to live with the indignity of segregation, and she's worked hard all of her life for a moment like this to see something so historic happen in her state."

Foxx's grandparents helped his single mother raise him in the 1970s and 1980s. He was bussed to previously all-white schools finally undergoing desegregation. Later, he became the first black student body president at Davidson College, 20 minutes north of Charlotte. The mayor is keenly aware of the lineage of black politicians who broke barriers for him, like former Mayor Gantt and President Obama.

"Where I fall on that continuum, that story is still being written, but I think that one thing that is very clear is that there's no ceiling anymore, and I think that's a great step for our country."

Ask Foxx if he aspired to higher office, and he has a ready answer. "I aspire to be useful," he said. "Find a place where you add value to a community. I do feel like I am doing what I need to be doing right now, but we'll see what the future holds."

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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