Local Politics

Lee, Blue recall political barriers

Posted November 5, 2008 8:28 p.m. EST
Updated November 6, 2008 8:11 a.m. EST

— Like President-elect Barack Obama, state Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee and Rep. Dan Blue have broken barriers during their political careers.

In 1969, Lee was the first black mayor elected in a predominately southern city – Chapel Hill.

“I just felt overwhelmed,” Lee said of his victory. He remembers turning to his wife, Lillian, who told him, “You asked for it. You worked for it. You’ve got it. Now it’s yours.”

After three terms as Chapel Hill mayor, in 1977 Lee became the first black in North Carolina history appointed to a state cabinet post. In 1990, he was elected to the state Senate and served 13 years.

Blue, in 1991, was elected the first black speaker of the state House of Representations.

“There were legislators who voted for me who were really afraid it would cost them their election in the next cycle because of what their constituents were telling them,” Blue said.

Blue was also the first black president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Upon seeing Obama elected on Tuesday, Blue described a feeling a sense of pride.

“There was a sense of history welling up in me,” he said.

Lee hopes Obama can help enhance America’s image abroad.

“I’m just delighted that I lived long enough to see this,” Lee said.