Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Local leaders will be dancing for a cause Nov. 12

Robyn Hamilton, director of business relations for the convention host committee, is among a dozen community leaders dancing for charity in the "YMCA Ballroom Battle" on Nov. 12.

Modeled after "Dancing with the Stars," the local event raises money for community-support campaigns at four Y's in and near uptown. They'll strut their stuff at the black-tie event being held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Other dancers are Capt. Mark Basnight, public information officer with the Charlotte Fire Department; Pamela Davies, president of Queens University of Charlotte; Steele Dewey, chairman, Aston Properties; Natalie English, senior vice president of public policy, Charlotte Chamber; Chuck Hood, president & owner, Hood Hargett; Dr. James Howell, senior pastor, Myers Park United Methodist Church; Michael Marsicano, president, Foundation of the Carolinas; Jim Noble, restaurateur; Maureen O'Boyle, WBTV News 3; Kevin Pitts, publisher, Charlotte Business Journal, and Pat Rodgers, president, Rodgers Builders.

Tickets are $125 each, $1,250 for a table of ten. For info: contact Y member services at 704-716-6100.

– Celeste Smith

Some Democrats missing when Obama toured N.C.

During his swing through North Carolina last week, President Obama managed to draw enthusiastic crowds in Asheville, Wilkes County and Jamestown.

But at a time when the president's poll numbers are declining in North Carolina, the turnout by the state's top Democratic officeholders was noticeably skimpy.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., showed up for Obama's rally in Asheville. And U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., was at Guilford Technical College.

But the other five Tar Heel Democrats in the U.S. House were no-shows. As was Gov. Bev Perdue.

At least she and U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., who represents Asheville, had good excuses: They were on overseas trips; Perdue in China, Shuler in Sri Lanka.

Prior to leaving for her trade trip, Perdue denied that N.C. politicians are worried about Obama's dip in the polls.

"There's not an elected official in America who isn't having the same kind of challenges with poll numbers," Perdue told the Observer. "It's a horribly difficult time for families in America and North Carolina, so it's obviously a tough time for everybody."
–Tim Funk

Ex-NFL players eye convention 'splash'

A team of former NFL players hopes to score points for the Democratic convention.

The Charlotte NFL Players Chapter is talking to convention officials about ways they can help.

"We are trying to make a big splash with the DNC and put Charlotte on the map," said Mike Dulaney, who played for the Panthers and the Chicago Bears. Exactly how the players would help is still unclear. But Dulaney said they could get involved in events surrounding the Super Bowl or NFL draft. He said there are more than 50 retired players in the this area and hundreds in the Carolinas.

"We are thrilled that local members of the NFL Retired Players Association would like to partner with us," said Dan Murrey, executive director of the host committee.

Convention aside, the NFL tends to be friendlier to Republicans.

Players, owners and executives, along with their spouses, gave at least $1.4 million to federal candidates and political committees in the last two years, the Center for Responsive Politics reported this month. Two-thirds of the money went to Republicans.

–Jim Morrill

Thursday, October 20, 2011

McCrory wants law to kick protesters off city property

Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has seized on a new issue in his still-unofficial campaign to be future N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory.

The issue: His contention that Charlotte and N.C. officials -- including Gov. Bev Perdue -- are setting a bad precedent by letting Occupy Charlotte and Occupy Raleigh literally occupy city and state-owned property.

If officials give in now, and let small groups of protesters set up tents in front of the old Charlotte city hall on Trade Street, McCrory asks, what will happen when very large groups of protesters show up in Charlotte next year for the Democratic National Convention?

"Where do they draw the line?" says McCrory. "If they let one, do they let 10 -- or 1,000? . . . That's not good for the economy, for public safety, and it's surely not sanitary for our city."

McCrory even has a catchy line, which he has repeated to TV stations and the Observer. If the city lets protesters camp out on city-owned property during the Democratic National Convention, he says, "it's going to look like Woodstock -- without the good music."

Republican McCrory, who's likely to challenge Democrat Perdue in 2012, says the Occupy Charlotte and Occupy Raleigh forces have every right to protest. "But they do not have as right to occupy" city and state-owned property, he says.

And if Charlotte officials don't feel they have an ordinance on the books to kick the Occupy protesters off city property. McCrory says, "The city council should create an ordinance to deal with it -- today."

And, unofficial gubernatorial candidate McCrory adds, "If the governor allows this in Raleigh, where does it stop?"

What does the City of Charlotte say about this issue?

Here's what Capt/ Jeffrey Estes of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department told the Observer in an email:

"The City Code does not include a time limit in a person’s right to picket on a public forum space," he wrote. "As with any gathering on public property, sanitation must be maintained by the people demonstrating at the Old City Hall lawn. One concern was raised involving sanitation at the site, and notice was given to the group that failure to maintain a sanitary environment could result in a Health Inspection and potential removal from the site."

-- Tim Funk

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

War room will help GOP jab Democrats

Democrats won't be the only ones gathering in Charlotte for next year's convention. So will Republicans.

The Republican National Committee plans to operate a "war room" near the convention, with a parade of GOP VIPs grabbing their share of the spotlight.

"Any story that's written on anything happening at the convention will always have a rebuttal, there will be a counterbalance to each argument," says RNC political director Rick Wiley. "Senators, governors and congressmen (will be) coming in and out."

Such operations are nothing new for either party. In 2004, then-Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory was part of the GOP team at the Democratic convention in Boston.

Wiley says next year his party will have more surrogate spokesmen than ever. For one thing, more are available. The 2010 elections simply put more Republicans in office.

And, he says, "More people understand the damage ( President Barack Obama) is doing to the economy.

"So they're more than willing to come out and speak about why he shouldn't be re-elected."
Democrats are expected to do the same thing at the Republican convention in Tampa.  

- Jim Morrill

Obama, Republicans making plans for field offices

RNC political director Rick Wiley says the GOP plan to have campaign boots on the ground by March in North Carolina.

The Obama campaign is already here.

Campaign officials, who have maintained an Organizing for America office in Raleigh, have begun hiring a network of field directors. In 2008, Obama had nearly 50 field offices and 400 staffers in the state.
"Our campaign is currently laying the foundation in North Carolina," says Lindsay Siler, Obama's N.C. director. "We will only expand our presence across the state leading up to the election."

All that underscores North Carolina's importance in 2012.

Republicans are targeting it as one of nine that George W. Bush carried in 2004 and that John McCain lost in 2008.

"We look at places like Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina as the first three we can pick off," says Wiley. "It's important to the president, too. It shows."  

- Jim Morrill

Academics debate convention and politics

It was one of the first of many to come: A panel discussion of academics, zeroing in on Charlotte, politics and the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Organized by the Charlotte Teachers Institute, the event Friday night at UNC Charlotte's Center City building featured discussions about everything from the subtle political messages in "Spiderman 3" to whether children under 18 should be able to vote.

Faculty members from UNC Charlotte, Davidson College and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools weighed in.

Davidson College's Josh Putnam said that the Charlotte convention, like most of the others in recent decades, will basically be "a nice pep rally."

UNC Charlotte's Heather Smith, meanwhile, cast Charlotte as an unconventional convention city - a hybrid of Southern charm and global dynamism. Or as she put it, taking off on the slogan at Bill Spoon's local BBQ restaurant:

"Charlotte cooks the whole pig - the South and global, the past and the present, the conventional and the unconventional."  

- Tim Funk

York's Spratt pushing S.C. participation in convention

Former U.S. Rep. John Spratt isn't representing York County, S.C., up in Washington any more. But he's still looking out for his one-time district when it comes to involving its people and facilities in next year's Democratic National Convention.

And he'll have plenty of chances to do so as a member of Charlotte's host committee for the 2012 convention.

"It's a great opportunity to showcase Charlotte," Spratt said of the convention. "And not only that, it's also an opportunity to showcase this region."

He said he's been hearing from officials at Winthrop University and others south of the N.C.-S.C. border about plugging them and their resources into the big show.

"That's going to be my objective," Spratt said. "To try to find these people and make sure good use is made of their time and talent."

And in case you wondered: Yes, Spratt misses Washington. Not all the partisan "antics," he said, but definitely the money matters.

The former House Budget Committee chairman, who lost his re-election bid in 2010, said he wishes he was "in the middle of the fray" over the ongoing budget battles in Congress.

Added Spratt: "I feel a little bit like somebody who has to sit on the bench and watch his team play the game."

- Tim Funk

Chicago's Hinton tabbed for Democrats' diversity post

Democrats Monday tapped a Chicago businessman as the "chief diversity officer" for the convention and the national party.

Greg Hinton, chief diversity officer of Chicago-based US Cellular, will advise the convention and the party on diversity in staffing and procurement.

"The Democratic Party has long been dedicated to including talented people who reflect the diversity of our great country, and Greg will bring his talents to bear as we make sure we are living up to that," party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

Hinton has worked on diversity issues for other companies including Abbott Labs and Pepsi General Bottlers.

"Our party is stronger because of our diversity," Hinton said. "And in this new role I will be working to make sure we are harnessing our diverse experiences and points of view in the most effective way possible."

Hinton starts Monday.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Drones for security at Democratic convention?

There won't be any drone aircraft flying over Tampa, Fla., during next year's Republican National Convention. But how about a week later in Charlotte?

Tampa police were seeking bids for a package of hundreds of security cameras that included specs for two "unmanned aerial vehicles," according to the St. Pete Times.

The city asked for proposals for two drones that could hover for 20 minutes, fly in 20-knot winds and carry cameras with zoom lenses or thermal-imaging capabilities.

Looking at the drones was intriguing, the Times reported, because they might offer the police some of the benefits of helicopters at a cheaper price.

Eventually, police eliminated drones from their convention shopping list because of the potential cost and possible problems with federal aviation regulations.

In the proposal, Tampa officials also asked for 164 cameras capable of reading a 3-inch-high number at 300 meters; 20 helmet cameras, and six trailer-mounted cameras on booms that can rise more than 20 feet.
Rob Tufano, spokesman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, declined comment on either drones or cameras.

Said Tufano: "This would fall under our protective means and methods category." Jim Morrill
Journalists win settlement over '08 convention arrests

Three journalists arrested covering a protest at the 2008 Republican convention have won a $100,000 settlement from the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the federal government.

The money goes to Amy Goodman, host of the syndicated program "Democracy Now!" and two of her producers.

They sued after their 2008 arrests, arguing that police and other law enforcement officials violated their First Amendment rights.

Goodman's attorney said the Twin Cities also agreed to develop a policy and training for police officers on how to avoid infringing on journalists' rights during protests.

With thousands of protesters expected at next year's Democratic convention, Charlotte police are now preparing.

"We expect to experience demonstrations from participants of many different political stripe and ideologies," says police spokesman Rob Tufano. "We'll be prepared to protect their constitutional right to assemble while maintaining public safety."

He said there will be additional training opportunities for police in the run-up to the convention. Jim Morrill
NRA official: Charlotte convention went smoothly

The Democratic convention won't be the biggest one Charlotte has ever hosted. That distinction goes to the 2010 National Rifle Association, which drew an estimated 72,000 people.

The convention-goers pumped approximately $68 million into the local economy, with 75 percent of attendees from out of town, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. (The NRA also came to Charlotte in 2000.)

So how did Charlotte fare on the hospitality front hosting its largest convention ever, and what can it do to prepare for the Democrats?

We asked Andrew Arulanandam, NRA director of public affairs:

How did Charlotte do? We have zero complaints. Charlotte was a great city to have our event. The people were great to work with. The locals were great in terms of their hospitality. We had, in fact, our largest meeting ever.

What worked well? Only a certain number of cities in the country can accommodate an annual meeting of our size. We require a large exhibit floor. We also require a facility that can seat anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people. I think we used every room in the Charlotte Convention Center. We had a couple of our larger events at Time Warner Cable Arena. I think we sold out a bunch of hotels.

Even for staff - we get very little time to experience a city - we enjoyed ourselves over there. When you got out of work late, there were still places open where you could get a quick bite to eat, get off your feet in a decent hotel room, and get back to work the next morning.

How can Charlotte prepare for the Democrats? I don't see how this will be a challenge for Charlotte. Having been to a number of political conventions, including several Democratic conventions, I think Charlotte can do this easily. Celeste Smith

Kerrigan to Q-Notes: Obama best president for gay rights

Democratic convention CEO Steve Kerrigan told a Charlotte paper that President Barack Obama is friendlier to gay rights than any other president.

"He has done more than any other president for the LGBT community, whether it be repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' or declaring the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional and telling the Department of Justice not to defend it anymore," Kerrigan told Q-Notes.

He also credited Obama with pushing for the James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard hate crimes act.
"I worked in the Senate for 14 years for Ted Kennedy, one of the biggest advocates for the community, and we weren't ever able to get the hate-crimes bill passed," Kerrigan recounts. "The president got it done and signed it. He's the man along with the vice president who we'll be nominating that week, so we're hoping the issues will be really front and center."  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Panel: Charlotte has problems but reflects a changing America

Democrats were astute in picking Charlotte as the site for their 2012 national convention. And the international spotlight will hopefully help the city solve some of its problems.

That appeared to be the consensus Tuesday when a panel of professors gathered at UNC Charlotte for a discussion of "Charlotte, the New South and the Democratic National Convention."

Here's some of what they said:

  • Charlotte, a New South city that's gone global, "is in the vanguard of contemporary urban transformation," said Heather Smith, an associate professor of geography at UNCC. "Its unconventional melding of South and global, past and present, makes it an ideal convention city."

  • In the last 30 years, Charlotte has gone from "a middle-sized Southern city" -- the country's 47th largest -- to a diverse, rapidly growing city that is now the 17th biggest and "representative of the United States in the 21st century," said Owen Furuseth, associate professor of metropolitan studies at UNCC. "This is where America is headed. Charlotte is America in the 21st century. And the (Democrats) wanted to be in this place, to be represented by this city."

  • Citing U.S. Census figures, Furuseth charted Charlotte's transformation from a city that was two-thirds white and one-third black in 1980 to a city in 2011 that's less than 50 percent white, 34 percent black and -- the biggest change -- almost 20 percent immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Those changing demographics, Furuseth said, mean "a whole new calculus of what we are as a community and impacts politics, schools and growth and development."

  • But beyond the city's glitzy skyline and rapid growth, the city has some problems. Among them: Its "traditional growth machine" -- banks -- is sputtering, said Bill Graves, an associate professor of geography at UNCC. With the big decline in all jobs -- from 857,000 in October 2007 to 760,000 in July 2011 -- the city needs "post-corporate" growth, he said, that is more creative, more entrepreneurial and more collaborative. The goal, Graves said, is to "leverage the visibility" of the upcoming Democratic National Convention to give Charlotte "global destination-city status" and bring skilled job-creators to town.

  • Other problems could get some more attention as Charlotte tries to present a positive picture for the world. The city's schools -- once a national model of integration -- are almost as segregated as they were before busing came to CMS in the 1970s, said Stephen Smith, a professor of political science at Winthrop University. And Charlotte's suburbs "are not very wonderful," said David Walters, director of UNCC's Urban Design program. "They don't make it on postcards." His hope is that Charlotte will look to cities that have been smarter in developing transit, and push ahead with light rail and streetcars.

The panelists contributed to the book, "Charlotte, NC: The Global Evolution of a New South City."

Tim Funk

Democratic governors look at arena

Some members of the Democratic Governor's Association are in Charlotte this week for a fundraiser and policy talks. Two of the state chief executives got a tour Monday of Time Warner Cable Arena - site of their party's 2012 national convention.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who heads the DGA, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick answered questions:

About the benefits a city gets from hosting a convention: "I can tell you, from Boston (host of the party's 2004 convention), that the Democratic convention was very good for us," said Patrick. "It created lots and lots of jobs.... Many, many more hotel and convention space opportunities were created in Boston; we still enjoy the benefits. So this is a convention that is going to be good for Charlotte."

About the decision by some labor unions to boycott the convention because North Carolina is a right-to-work state: "We are a large, diverse party...with a very, very big tent and a lot of interest," said O'Malley. "And part of that party happens to be the great numbers of people in the South ... This is one of the smaller venues, site-wise, that we have had ... (But) we always want to have as large a coalition as possible. And if any labor union or any of the groups that make up the Democratic Party choose not to come, sure, that's a disappointment. But we are still going to have a much broader and more diverse consensus and coalition than ... the other party."

About whether the Democrats can re-energize the young people, African-Americans and others who helped President Obama win in 2008: "Nobody is taking this (re-election) for granted. And we shouldn't," Patrick said. "I say to Democrats who are nervous: 'Good, good.' Because that edge is important for us. It means we need to get out there and work, it means we need to make the case to people at a grassroots level ... And we need to show people that they've got a stake in each other and in the outcome."

About what Democrats can do to boost Obama's sagging poll numbers in North Carolina and nationally: "None of us should be happy with the state of our economy," said O'Malley. "But at the end of the day, you're going to have a (GOP) economic plan that was a miserable failure, contrasted with a (Democratic) plan that has, in many cases, been effective and could be more effective. And there's a long period of time that's going to go by between now and the election. And when people make their choice, the president is not going to be running against the Almighty. He will be running against an alternative." Tim Funk

N.C. poll shows Obama lags in job performance

If President Barack Obama hopes to carry North Carolina again, he has some work to do, according to an Elon University Poll released Monday.

Fifty-one percent of N.C. residents disapprove of the president’s job performance, while 42 percent approve. The poll of 594 voters has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Obama’s jobs proposal hasn’t won that many fans either.

Just 35 percent of North Carolinians said they would encourage their member of Congress to vote for the president’s jobs proposal. Thirty-six percent don’t like it and 28 percent aren’t sure. Jim Morrill