April 21, 2014

Charlotte seeks to set stage for Southern Democrats (AUDIO)

If North Carolina is a battleground state for the upcoming presidential election, the DNC convention is the launch of a major Democratic offensive in the South. [More photos]

Tuesday night at Time Warner Arena

The choosing of Charlotte made sense to Democrats after President Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008. It also sent a message that the deep “Red State” South is not forgotten.

Charlotte, a banking center and one of the fastest growing cities in the country, would also like to make its own statement about the South, the newer South.

Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, Charleston native, was the first black man to attend Clemson University and went on to become active in North Carolina politics, serving as Charlotte’s mayor from 1983 – 1987.

Gantt worked to make the case for Charlotte as a host city.

Gantt (r) and SC delegate from Charleston, Brady Quirk-Garvan

“This is only the second time that a Southern city has been chosen to host the Democratic National Convention in 30 or 40 years,” says former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt. “I just think that it is a reflection of what the party is and how far the South has come, that the national party would say that this is a good place to be.”

“Charlotte is a new American city,” says Gantt, “It’s addressing issues of health and public education, sustainability and energy. It’s got the kind of diversity now where we’ve got strong participants in all sectors, race and gender. Those are the things that reflect Democratic Party values–all because we have come so far here in the South.

Now the event is underway, with 30,000 visitors in town this week,  more than 3,000 public safety officers from all over the nation. The city had also planned for 65,000 coming in for President Obama’s acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium, but a thunderstorm threat cancelled that venue, scaling down what was to be a massive transport of people into downtown.

The downtown has been transformed into a city within a city, with most of the downtown cordoned off, protest areas contained and an omnipresent police force. The city is sectored by special signage: the media “Epicentre” that draws crowds to see their favorite network politicos in person, special art exhibits and a film festival, and a steady stream of crowds walking or taking the light rail between the city convention center and the TWC.

Despite someone’s personal politics, the excitement in Charlotte is palpable as the world comes to visit.

Local volunteers and workers from the city and nearby South Carolina have signed on to be a part of it.

Judy Burkett, a Fort Mill School District bus driver, was hired to drive a shuttle van during the convention.

AUDIO: School bus driver describes the local excitement.

“Welcome to Charlotte,” says volunteer greeter and Queen City native Bernard Ross. AUDIO: Tuesday morning, he gives directions, welcome and customer assistance for his city–and for his candidate, Barack Obama.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Tim Scott, an up-and-coming Congressman from Charleston, says that the Charlotte setting is a good one to make the case against the Democratic ticket. And he came to Charlotte to do that for his party. He says the numbers are clear:

Rep. Scott at GOP response center

“What you hear in North Carolina, which is very interesting, is an unemployment rate that’s over 9 percent, 9 percent! And they say in the black community, to be specific, almost 20 percent, 19 percent unemployment in this state among black folks. So there’s a lot of reasons why we should celebrate the choosing of Charlotte, N.C. for the national convention,” Scott says.