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Possible mayoral candidate Malcolm Graham

State Senator Malcolm Graham has got his sights set on the mayor's office.

The former Charlotte City Council member has waited his turn for a shot at the city's top spot. Now some local Democratic leaders say the race is his to run -- if he wants it.

CL: There's a lot of buzz around town about you running for mayor. Are you considering a run?

Graham: When I first came to Charlotte in 1981 as a freshman at Johnson C. Smith, I majored in political science and I had a desire to one day run for mayor or congress, and everything I've done over the last 15 years -- serving for five years on city council, two terms now on the North Carolina State Senate -- has been preparation for that. I'm not interested in running for mayor; I'm interested in running for mayor and winning. One of the things we are considering in 2007 is whether the timing is right.

What I'm trying to do is do my research: talk to people in the community, talk to members of the Democratic Party. We have not made a decision, but certainly it is something that I've been thinking about for quite a while now.

The conditions are really ripe for a Democrat, and particularly a black Democrat, to become mayor. We've seen an increase by 10 percentage points in the number of black registered voters in Charlotte that has happened gradually over the last decade. That's a huge change in voter demographics.

I think it's huge, too. We certainly are aware of the demographics. A winning candidate for mayor on the Democratic side, especially an African-American, is going to have to have not only the support of the African-American community, but also broad range support throughout the city of Charlotte.

The difference between winning and not winning is to be able to go into Ballantyne, go into the suburbs and sell a new vision for Charlotte. When you look at my candidacy for city council over the last three terms, I ran from a pretty diverse district and even my Senate district is pretty diverse. We've been able to attract not only a large African-American following, but we've been able to cross over and do reasonably well in picking up a number of Republican votes.

What's wrong with the current mayor?

I think the community is ready for a mayor who is going to talk more about poor people and everyday people versus NASCAR museums and arts and science projects. These large urban issues that we are dealing with -- education, inner city development, diversity, job training, job opportunities -- all these are important now and we need a mayor who gets it. I'm not sure that the current mayor embraces that because he is so fixated on Uptown.

I voted for some of those Uptown projects when I was on city council, and I don't back away from those votes because I believed they were needed at the time. As we move forward in '07, we have to have a mayor who clearly understands that we have been giving so much to the rich and the powerful and those who contribute to campaigns that we forgot about those who are poor. If the city is going to grow, all of its citizens must grow along with it, not just a small few while the banks are growing and our Uptown is expanding.

We need a mayor who is going to admit that there is a gang problem in Charlotte and not one who is going to sweep it under the rug. It's affecting our schools, our neighborhoods, our quality of life. We need a mayor who is going to work with the police department and the communities around Charlotte to address these issues.

We need a mayor who is tired of seeing Beatties Ford Road look the same way for the last 25 years. I graduated from Johnson C. Smith in 1985 and the same boarded-up buildings are still there. We need to begin to work on our edge cities, the Johnson C. Smith University corridor, while making sure that we don't displace folks in the Belmont community.

The general answer that we've heard from the mayor on getting funding for Charlotte's problems from the state legislature is that urban areas like Charlotte don't have enough legislators and clout in the legislature to get it done? Can you get it done?

I was talking to Joe Ford the other day, and he was saying we need a strong person in Charlotte to talk about minority economic development and the mayor isn't doing that and they are doing it in Detroit and they are doing it in Atlanta and they're doing it in Los Angeles. I said, "Stop. What is the familiar part about all of those cities? Detroit has a black mayor, Atlanta has a black mayor and Los Angeles has a minority mayor. They get it."

Our mayor don't get it and that agenda will not be on the forefront as a personal commitment. It's easier for me or a Democrat, I think, to go to Raleigh and talk to a Democratic majority leader and talk to a Democratic speaker or a Democratic governor versus a Republican. [McCrory is a Republican.]

Most people don't realize that there is very little expansion of major state roads planned through 2025. This hasn't been addressed yet.

I think it is the big issue. Right now we are headed for gridlock.

We've paid too much time and attention to [mass] transit. Certainly we need a comprehensive transportation network, and transit is a part of that. The bus system is a part of that. Road construction and road maintenance is a big part of that as well and I'm not sure this city and this mayor has embraced that. If the light rail south side line opens up in 2007, that is not going to have a tremendous impact in taking cars off the road. We have to have a comprehensive plan about roads and that's something that we will be talking about next year if we decide to jump in this race.

The current mayor has no problem raising half a million dollars for a campaign. Other candidates who have run against him have had a lot of doors shut in their faces, even Democratic doors, when they tried to raise money. Do you think you'll be able to raise money?

I know we won't be able to raise more money than the mayor, but in my senate campaign, Fountain Odom out-raised us 2-to-1, and we won with 68 percent of the vote. Are we concerned about raising money? Yes. Is it a major concern? Not really -- $300,000 is a number that doesn't scare me.

What are the top three issues that you would probably run on?

We're done with the Uptown projects and we need to make sure that the resources the city has are divided equally among all its communities.

I think that the community is ready for a mayor who is going to tell the development community that you had a pretty good ride in Charlotte for the last 25 years, now it is time for you to pay your fair share in terms of the impact that these projects are having on our schools, on our roads, on our park systems.

The third is that people are really concerned about their personal safety in Charlotte, and that wasn't the case five or seven years ago. Regardless of what the mayor says about the crime rate, if you feel unsafe, you are not safe and people believe that they are not safe.

There is a proliferation of youth violence, car break-ins, etc., throughout the city. You have a restless youth community saying I don't have anything to do, you have people who are not gainfully employed.

There is subculture in our city that is not visible, that people can't see. It is hurting our school system in terms of the disruptive behaviors in our classrooms. It's affecting students' test scores. It's destroying our neighborhoods.

When I moved to Charlotte, if you lived in Hidden Valley you were the shit. That was a prime-time neighborhood. I got a call from a lady who lives in Hidden Valley two weeks ago who is about 69 years old, can't move because she doesn't work anymore, afraid for her personal safety. She said, "Malcolm, I'm trapped."

We have to acknowledge that subculture exists. If we don't begin to resolve this collectively, our corporate leadership, our political leadership, then we will not grow as a community.

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