Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx says polarization infecting politics

Delivering Elon Law's fall 2012 Bryan Leadership Lecture on Nov. 13, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said bipartisanship and public-private collaboration are key to solving local and national challenges.

Now in his second term, Foxx became the youngest mayor in the Charlotte’s history when he was first elected in 2009. At Elon, he spoke about leadership traits that enable lawyers to succeed in professional and civic life and he identified qualities that have helped Charlotte to thrive and others that have caused the national government to gridlock.

“There is an illness of polarization that has gotten deeply into our politics,” Foxx said. “I don’t think you can answer the question of deficit reduction without someone saying, ‘I will accept what you are asking, but only if you are willing to accept some of what we are seeking.’ I don’t think our country can take another shockwave like the fiscal cliff.”

In contrast, Foxx said Charlotte was achieving economic growth, innovation and urban revitalization as a result of partnerships across sectors of the city.

“Part of the reason Charlotte has been successful is its relationship with the private sector,” Foxx said, “We have many private sector leaders who are civic minded.”

Foxx described the city’s approach to governance as an asset, noting that Charlotte is triple-A bond rated, maintains a focus on clean streets and neighborhoods, invests in quality of life measures such as a widespread tree canopy across the city and develops an infrastructure that allows economic development to occur.

“We take pride in being exceptionally well managed,” Foxx said.

Noting that one of Charlotte’s current challenges is incenting development and attracting people to live in the city’s urban core, Foxx also identified major shifts taking place in North Carolina, including demographic changes, urbanization, technological innovation and transformations in the economy, particularly in health care and energy sectors.

“Our state is changing right in front of our eyes,” Foxx said. “We are starting to see a new North Carolina emerging.”

Foxx spoke primarily about aspects of leadership. He described, “the immense power of law to change things for the better,” tracing his family history back to a seven year old girl who was sold into slavery and including generations that had lived through the nation’s Jim Crow era, segregation, the civil rights era and our current time.

“The same system of laws that made it possible for my great-great grandmother to be sold into slavery later made it possible for me to gain a strong education and five generations later to be the mayor of the largest city in North Carolina,” Foxx said. “As a profession, we cannot take that legacy for granted. I wish for you that you will accept not only the privilege of being a lawyer but the responsibility to help our nation and world grapple with the challenges of the moment. I wish for you that in every important endeavor you find enough resilience to accomplish things you never thought you could.”

Foxx also encouraged law students to take ownership of their careers.

“The prize at the end of the day is really defined by you,” Foxx said. “The hardest point for achievers is settling down and figuring out what it is that will fulfill you.”

Describing his own career path, Foxx said he enjoyed the practice of law and succeeded in a law firm setting, but that he sought something more.

“What I missed was the sense of ownership my grandparents felt for the community around them,” Foxx said.

He said the roles of lawyers in leading communities through change and challenge were, “a hefty responsibility but a glorious privilege.”

“You are part of a legacy,” Foxx said to law students in the audience, noting that they would become participants in the country’s judicial system, create laws and have the opportunity to weigh in on how justice gets dispensed.

Introducing Mayor Foxx, second-year law student and leadership fellow Andrew Realon focused on the mayor’s ability to inspire.

“One week ago, many of us anxiously fixed our eyes upon television screens as poll results began to trickle in. We cast our ballots for the persons who inspired us to be better citizens, motivated us to be a better people and challenged us to do more for others,” Realon said. “One such person is our guest speaker here tonight. The student body of Elon Law is pleased to welcome you to our law school, Mayor Foxx, because we believe in and embrace the leadership responsibilities of our profession and we respect and appreciate your leadership in the law and in the public arena.”

As Mayor, Foxx has focused on strengthening Charlotte’s economy by establishing the City as an energy hub, developing a 21st Century infrastructure system to support the country’s fastest-growing urban area and creating an environment in which small businesses and entrepreneurs can thrive. To increase career opportunities for Charlotte’s young people, Foxx significantly expanded the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program, and to boost the City’s exports, he led an international trade delegation to China. To showcase the City on a global stage, Foxx led a bipartisan, citywide effort to bring the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte in 2012.

Foxx earned a law degree from New York University’s School of Law as a Root-Tilden Scholar, the University’s prestigious public service scholarship. In addition to working in the private practice of law, Foxx served as a law clerk for the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and staff counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. He is the recipient of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Citizen Lawyer Award. Foxx earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Davidson College, where he was the first African-American student body president.

The Joseph M. Bryan Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series is an integral part of Elon University School of Law’s commitment to develop lawyers who are also leaders. Endowed through a generous gift from the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation of Greensboro, N.C., the Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series brings accomplished leaders from a variety of disciplines to Elon to share their experiences and perspectives with students and faculty.