Q&A: Arthur Griffin talks about why he is returning to county politics
Nearly 20 years have passed since Arthur Griffin last held public office. Now at age 73, the former school board Chair says he will seek an at-large seat on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
Griffin declared his candidacy last week during a meeting of the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
After years of criticizing how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were run, especially as it related to Black students, Griffin won a school board seat in 1988 and served as chair from 1997 until 2002. He left the school board in 2003 and worked as an education executive for McGraw Hill in New York City before retiring in 2015.
In the Q&A below, answers were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
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Q. So the big question is why. Why are you throwing your hat in the ring, and why now?
Arthur Griffin: The people that know me know that this is my life. I have a life of service in this community. For the people that don’t really know me, they may think this is a surprise, but this is just a continuation. The county (commission), as I see and known it to be, is about the quality of life for citizens that live in this community, whether you’re rich, poor, Black, white, suburban, central city. They’ve always been about the quality of life in terms of healthcare, parks, education, and human services. I really get joy out of working with people, and so human services has always been my calling. For the people who do not know, I served on the Mecklenburg County Board of Social Services when there was a Board of Social Services. I served on the inaugural Human Services Council. I served on the Mecklenburg Executive Council of Boy Scouts. I was a guardian ad Litem with the courts. I served on the Head Start policy council for years. I worked with people in public housing. I brought the first chapter of the National Black Child Development Institute here back in the 80s. I mean, this is a part of who I am. I will continue to try to do what I can in volunteering in schools and other parts of the community where we are trying to deal with upward mobility.
Q. You’re a native Charlottean. You know the city, you know the county. What policies do you want to see? What’s on your agenda?
AG: The four pillars of the county are: recreation, work, learn and live, and I think that fits squarely into my vision of what I would like to do. The Chetty study talked about if you’re born poor in Charlotte the chances are slim to get out. We were 50 out of 50, and when you reflect on that, that’s the heartbeat for me. We have a wonderful economic engine of our business communities doing well, but it won’t continue to do well if we don’t prepare, not just children but adults who are transitioning and making career changes. So lifelong learning is extremely important. Workforce preparedness, which is related to economic development; I think that’s critically important for me. Affordable housing is important to me, and it’s not just the bricks-and-mortars. It’s the quality of the community you live in. Healthy, safe communities around affordable housing is something that’s very important to me. It’s something I’ve worked on in the past when I worked at Legal Aid years and years ago.
Mecklenburg is truly an economic engine, and we have to keep Mecklenburg attractive for businesses coming into this community, because they help us with our tax base, and the tax base is what pays for some of those human services we talked about earlier as it relates to education and safe, healthy communities for people to live and grow up in. Parks and recreation is a critical area for us to keep paying attention to, so that quality of life is enjoyed by everyone across the spectrum.
Q. You talked about quality communities, what’s your definition of a quality community as it relates to Mecklenburg County?
AG: Communities where you can walk to a park, that are within proximity to healthcare, that are in proximity to quality learning experiences, whether they are traditional K through 12 or K through 16. Are there grocery stores close by, or are there farmers markets close by? Communities that have those attributes are what I call a quality community.
Q. It’s been a while since you last ran for office. What’s it like for you this time around? How have you prepared for campaign season?
AG: Well, I just announced a week ago, only seven days, but it’s certainly my intent to let as many people as (possible) know that I’m running and why I’m running for this office. I want to hear from them. What are their needs, thoughts, observations. It is a citizen-participatory government. We are citizens for citizens. So I want to hear from residents of Mecklenburg County, from Davidson to Mint Hill. The time that I served in Mecklenburg County [School Board] until 2003, I always served at-large. I’ve never served in the district capacity, so I’m very familiar with having to reach out to citizens across this community. Now it’s a little larger than it was, but the concept and practice to reach as many citizens as possible is the same. You use social media, word of mouth — you use whatever medium you can to let people know you’re interested in serving them.
Q. Do you think you can win?
AG: I have every intention of being successful, but that’s in the hand of the voters. It’s up to the voters to decide who they want to represent them, and I hope that they give me that consideration.