Democratic National Convention 2012 Notebook: A balance of politics and business


Two events. Two moods.

With visions of economic gain and a burnished international profile, the city of Charlotte is graciously extending a bipartisan business welcome to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. That was the message at the Chamber office on Tuesday with the announcement by the Committee for Charlotte in 2012 of host and steering committee members. To be sure, the list is weighted with Democratic politicians and officials. But a smattering of Republican names conveys the message that partisan bickering isn’t a part of the package. (One of them, city council member Andy Dulin, said he wants a “safe and profitable convention,” with visitors who “spend a lot of money” and then “are disappointed in November.” He was smiling, sort of.)

On Monday, an overflow crowd at Democratic National Committee member Pat Cotham’s monthly Uptown Democratic Forum heard the tag-team of Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Steve Kerrigan and host committee CEO Dan Murrey deliver a practical message about convention business. However, the gathering at the Levine Museum of the New South, thick with community activists and campaigning politicians, also had the trappings of a political rally.

Murrey said the convention will need 10,000 to 12,000 volunteers. Christy Kluesner has already stepped up. Kluesner, who has worked in development for small government agencies and nonprofits, said she wants visitors to know her Charlotte: a place “with creative energy and the willingness to try new things.” She also wants President Obama, whom she supports, to emphasize what he’s accomplished “despite challenges.”

It was a by-the-numbers rundown on Monday, with Murrey’s big one being the close to $37 million needed for the convention. (The host committee isn’t talking about how much it’s raised so far.) “People have the opportunity to feel like this is their convention,” he said.

Kerrigan’s numbers included the shade over 14,000 votes that was Obama’s slim margin in North Carolina and the state’s 15 electoral votes. “How do we engage folks in this community, in this state,” and across the country? he asked.

A confident Cotham told me her thoughts on Obama’s chances: “Yes, he’s going to win North Carolina.” A host committee member, who was at Tuesday’s event as well, Cotham has been speaking to Democrats in outlying counties to get them involved in what’s happening in Charlotte. “We all know how this works,” she told me at Monday’s forum. “Our people are the ones who are most affected by the economy….There are people here today who are homeless. There are people here today who don’t have jobs and can’t afford the $10 dollars for lunch, and I never turn anybody away.

“Don’t you underestimate the Democrats. They will come out strong," Cotham said.

Chairing the host committee, which is tasked with engaging the public in convention activities, are Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and Sen. Kay Hagan were named honorary co-chairs. Former Mayor Harvey Gantt chairs the smaller steering committee, whose members “will bring the hopes and concerns of their constituencies to our discussion.” Honorary co-chairs are former Gov. Jim Hunt and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl. Committee members serve as unpaid volunteers.

Host committee member John Spratt brings South Carolina into the mix. The longtime U.S. Congressman lost his seat to Republican Mick Mulvaney in 2010, part of the wave that shifted the House to GOP control. At Tuesday’s announcement, Spratt said the surrounding counties needed to be tapped. “Cities can turn conventions to their advantage.”

And while he’s concentrating on his new convention role, Spratt did admit he “would love to be in the fray” in Washington right now. “To resolve the problems, we need Democrats and Republicans putting hands on the plow, leaning in the same direction,” he told me. He said that President Obama was confronted with unprecedented economic challenges when he was sworn in. “If he can make his case and it catches on here,” Spratt said, “it will be a good litmus test for the rest of the country.”

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to The Root, NPR, Creative Loafing and the Nieman Watchdog blog. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 on TV’s Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.

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