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Harvey Gantt discusses Anthony Foxx, significance of victory

Anthony Foxx will be sworn in next month as Charlotte's first Democratic mayor in 22 years. He'll also be Charlotte's second African-American mayor. Harvey Gantt has the distinction of being the first. Gantt is also the the last Democratic mayor. Gantt served from 1983 to 1987, and twice challenged former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms in races that gained national attention. WFAE Morning Edition host Scott Graf spoke to Gantt about his friend Anthony Foxx and the civility of the mayoral race. GANTT: I would like to believe that Anthony and John Lassiter have a great deal of respect for each other. They served on the city council together, and both of them are decent human beings. One of the things we've said to Anthony over the years, and I think he observed in campaigns that I ran, and Mel Watt ran, is that you don't need to attack people personally, you don't need to get into the mud slinging. It is adequate to talk about your vision, and what you want to do, and your opponent's public service record. GRAF: What was your relationship with Anthony Foxx prior to this race? GANTT: Well, he was a friend to the family. We knew Anthony when he ran around in our backyard playing with my children. When I was running for public office, he was a fixture around the house with my children, so we think of him as a member of the family. We did not have much to do with encouraging him to go into the political arena. I think he picked that up from the friendship with the family, and with the Watts, and others, so we've kind of considered him an outgrowth of our interests in public service over the years and we're delighted to see that. GRAF: How did that relationship change as this race played out? GANTT: I don't know that it changed at all except that we got to be more of a consultant and adviser to him as he worked his way through the campaign. We remember the days when his grandfather was a great adviser to my campaign, so I thought maybe this was quid pro quo for us to be in the position we were in. GRAF: We said in our newscast that Mr. Foxx will be the first African-American mayor in Charlotte in 22 years. He also happens to be the first Democratic mayor in Charlotte in 22 years. Which one is more significant? GANTT: Well, I'm torn because I certainly wanted to see us elect a Democratic mayor again. We do have an orientation to policy that I think is going to be positive for Charlotte. I'm certainly feeling a great sense of fulfillment to see an African-American who is well qualified, who is well trained, who paid his dues and did the due diligence necessary to run for the city's highest office, and succeed. So, I don't know. I don't want to pick which one of those two accomplishments are very good. But it's nice to see a Democrat lead again, and that is in no way a disparagement of what Pat McCrory has done for the 14 years that he's served. GRAF: Should it feel any different for Anthony Foxx today being the second African-American elected in Charlotte to be the mayor in 2009 versus how you felt the day after you first won your race in the mid-'80s? GANTT: I'll tell you what, last night brought back a great deal of memories, but back then it was probably even more exciting, from my perspective, because it was a different time and a different place. Today, maybe people are very excited about him and a great accomplishment, but you have to think that we've also made great progress from 26 years ago, when I was first elected, to today, from the standpoint that we've also elected, since that time, an African-American president of the United States. So it's not probably as big a deal anymore. And, African-American voters and the community have gotten a lot more sophisticated and are starting to recognize people on the basis of their capability for handling an office. GRAF: Is there a piece of information, a bit of advice, that you will pass to Anthony Foxx here going in as mayor of Charlotte that you wish someone would have been able to pass to you way back in the '80s? GANTT: Well, I got a lot of advice when I became mayor of Charlotte, and he's going to get a lot of advice from people, and I'm sure Pat McCrory did every time he got elected. I do know that often times the agenda that a mayor or any elected official has can be changed on a dime given the circumstances of what happens on a daily basis. The hope is that he'll be able to work on the issues that he talked about in his campaign, which is to deal with the economy, make Charlotte attractive for all the neighborhoods, and to have an effective relationship with Raleigh, but there are going to be periods in which he's going to be distracted. GRAF: Harvey Gantt, thank you very much for your time and your perspective. GANTT: Thank you.