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Malcolm Graham returns to City Council, where all politics is local
15 years later, District 2 rep-elect is re-energized
Published Wednesday, November 27, 2019 6:28 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Malcolm Graham, who will join Charlotte City Council on Dec. 2, returns to the launch point of his political career. He previously was a member of council from 1999-2004 and was an N.C. senator from 2004-14.

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There’s no learning curve when Malcolm Graham joins Charlotte City Council on Dec. 2.

Graham, who will represent District 2 on the panel, was District 4’s representative from 1999-2004, then went on to the N.C. Senate for 10 years. After a couple of failed congressional campaigns and gun-legislation advocacy after his sister, Cynthia Hurd, was killed in the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in 2015, Graham is back where his political career took root.

In an interview with The Post, Graham, 56, talked about returning to council, what precipitated it and challenges the city faces. Responses are edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: You’ve already been a council member. Why go back?

MG: It wasn't something I was looking to do. Obviously, I started an interest in public policy, being involved in governing. I never lost an interest. And so, I was always looking for ways where I can continue to contribute even when I wasn’t in public office by participating with a lot of nonprofits specifically my sisters’ foundation, doing community work getting involved in the community. So, like I tell a lot of people, you don't have to have a, a title to be a leader and a lot of leadership opportunities within a community that notwithstanding the fact that I wasn’t an officeholder I kind of still was very engaged very involved in a wide variety of community-related issues.

One in particular was when I went to city council to speak in February regarding the [Republican National Convention in Charlotte]. I came there to voice my displeasure of the city actually hosting the event, so I was a public speaker, and I did a wide variety of things in the interim, [like] writing editorials on issues that was published nationally on the CNN website, The Washington Post around the issues of gun violence and we hosted [Democratic presidential candidate] Cory Booker earlier this year when he came to town at Friendship Missionary Baptist. He particularly came down here to talk about gun violence and stuff like that, so I hadn't gone away. I just was focusing on different issues and didn't have the quote-unquote title before my name.

Q: You mentioned gun violence, and the issues surrounding that Charlotte's on the cusp of 100 homicides. Most of those are gun related. Is that first on your mind in terms of things to tackle when you take the oath?

MG: One of my top priorities for certain. Obviously, I'm representing District 2 specifically, but I see my vision is it encompasses the entire city. Earlier this year there was a young lady that was killed on the corner of Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street – carjacked, killed.

There was an officer-involved shooting at the Burger King in District 2 on Beatties Ford Road. A young lady was killed on North Tryon Street in a crossfire – two guys thought it was a great idea to have a gun fight across North Tryon Street at five o’clock. She was killed – no fault of her own.…  

I refuse to believe that council cannot play a proactive role in answering the riddle of gun violence. I believe gun violence is a public health crisis and should be treated as that. And so, I find that more with the district attorney's office the police department, as well as grassroot community leaders to see what we can do to curb and violence. And also work with the [Mecklenburg County legislative] delegation in Raleigh, as well as our federal delegation about passing common common-sense gun legislation. So yes, that will be one that I will be really focusing on like a laser beam and working with CMPD and the district attorney to see what we can do.

Q: After running for Congress and considering a campaign for lieutenant governor, what brought you back to local government?

MG: When the city council opportunity came open, again, a lot of folks in the district said ‘hey you should be thinking about this’ because …while the council is proactive and moving forward, it needed some seasoned leadership. And also, I was really, really [upset] about the fact that the council voted to bring the RNC to Charlotte. I was really upset that an urban community lost the CIAA tournament, and the consolation prize was getting the RNC, right?

I believe that the city council had the answer to the test to keep the conference in Charlotte and still flunked and you bring the RNC to town and it is elementary school thinking to say just because had the DNC, we should have the RNC. That's like saying, just because the Spanish club used the gym, it's OK for the Beta Club to use it, right? That's high school thinking. The RNC is a different equation this year, with a whole different antenna attached to it. We can’t be so politically correct as a city that we’re morally wrong.

And so, it was that, it was the CIAA leaving after we spent so many [years] with me being part of that early a group that helped bring them to town.
I'm a fixer, I'm a doer. I did a lot of work with Johnson C. Smith [University] in terms of the, the Five Points area in terms of trying to revitalize that brought over $100 million of economic impact working for the university. I want to start phase two, which I believe starts at the corner of Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street, and to really begin to provide the type of community, to provide leadership.

Q: How to you envision economic impact in that area?

MG: Going probably to Friendship Missionary Baptist to the Burger King, so that would be what I would consider phase two. I think, with some leadership and working with neighborhood leaders in the city that we really could revitalize that district in that corridor and bring some economic impact to it. You can’t find a doctor's office on Beatties Ford Road, you’d be hard pressed to find a law office on Beatties Ford Road, a CPA firm, an urgent care. And so, I believe that I can work with neighborhood leaders, and the private development community others to really reimagine what that corridor looks like, so I'd like challenges.

Q: Some people will argue that the streetcar is the beginning of the end of that corridor as a historically black working-class neighborhood. What do you say to them, considering that history bears out that whenever you bring rail to inner city neighborhoods, gentrification ultimately intensifies and kicks the working-class folks out, especially when they're people of color?

MG: It’s a tight needle to thread because at one point you want to revitalize the neighborhood, revitalize the community and you want them to be safe, right? You want it to be clean, right? You want retail opportunities to come and there's nothing wrong with growth.

What I want to do is make sure that those citizens who live there – the seniors, those traditional neighborhoods are part of the progress and not a symptom of the problems right that they, they kind of grow along with it.

Q: You represented a different district in a different Charlotte during your first tenure on council. The city’s population is nearly 900,000 people now as opposed to back then. What is it about today’s city that gives you the most pause, or presents the best opportunity or challenge because it is such a different place?

MG: The first time, everybody, including me, was so interested in building a better Charlotte right that we had to have a new Convention Center. We had to have an NFL team, we had to have a new arena. We had to have another arena because the old arena wasn’t good enough. We lost the [NBA] basketball team, we got a basketball team. We needed a NASCAR Hall of Fame.

We relocated the arts from where they were to Uptown. We wanted to be a national class city, but we forgot about the people who live here, who call Charlotte home, who weren't coming for a three-day, four-day convention, but live here 365 days of the year. We left a lot of people behind in our pursuit of trying to grow this city.


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