Thursday, November 06, 2008

We Remember a Pioneer

Charlotte's first black mayor Harvey Gantt was also North Carolina's first state-wide black candidate in the 20th century when he ran against Sen. Jesse Helms in 1990 and came close. He tried again in 1996, less successfully.

Despite two losses, Gantt really deserves credit for energizing progressive forces in NC. In fact, it was the Gantt-Helms race in 1990 that gave birth to the "new" Democratic Party in Watauga County. One could draw a straight line from Gantt organizers in Watauga in 1990 to the Democratic sweeps here in 2004, 2006, and 2008.

Interviewed by Rob Christensen in the N&O, Gantt recognized the changes in NC demographics since his first run for the Senate:
"I think it means the nature ... of North Carolina has changed substantially from those races in the 1990s. It's a younger population. It's a much more moderate population. The urban centers are much more influential in terms of North Carolina -- Charlotte, the Triangle, the Triad, Wilmington and Asheville."

When Gantt first ran in 1990, Christensen points out, there were 3.3 million registered voters; today there are 6.2 million.

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