For Steve Kerrigan, the job is political, logistical and personal.
The CEO of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, Kerrigan has to figure out how to make a national political convention — with all its moving parts and sometimes competing interests — run smoothly. While he led the host committee for the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, Charlotte has its own charms and challenges. And 2012 promises to make that campaign look as proper as a (lowercase) tea party.
Business owners want to know what more than 30,000 delegates and 10,000 media members mean for them. Others ask if estimates of a $200 million-plus bonanza for the city are optimistic. Plus, Kerrigan knows that a successful showcase for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is crucial in a state where a 14,000-vote margin made the difference in 2008. Kerrigan, chief of staff for Obama's inauguration, would like a return trip for the president.
"For me, a big part of why we're here now ... is so that we can really get engaged and become a part of this community," Kerrigan told me. (Though, on the advice of staffers who know the territory and his linguistic skills, saying "y'all" is out.)
"This is about how do we make this the most open and accessible convention in history," he said. "One of the best lessons I learned in Boston was communication and coordination were keys to success." He added, "As we roll out security and transportation plans in terms of what's going to happen in and around the actual arena, they'll have a place to go to get their answers and we'll be able to address their concerns early."
"The people here in Charlotte are a huge reason why we chose to come here," said Kerrigan, "that sort of energy and drive and determination, and the hard work that this city has always displayed throughout history. And even in the most recent economic crisis, how the city has reinvented itself."
With more than 1,300 events planned around convention week, said Kerrigan, "we won't know who's spending what dollars and where, but that's the sort of short-term direct economic impact that we think is a huge boost to the community," with access for locally owned, minority-owned, women-owned businesses. The long-term benefit is difficult to predict, he said, because it depends on how the city "shows itself on a world stage."
Among other local leaders, the DNC has been working with Mayor Anthony Foxx; City Manager Curt Walton; police Chief Rodney Monroe; former Mayor Harvey Gantt ("an institution," said Kerrigan); and Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, which has guaranteed a $10 million line of credit for the convention and received some criticism for it. Fundraising, Kerrigan said, is "right on track," toward a total budget just shy of $37 million.
After recent record-setting quarterly numbers for Obama's re-election drive, the party is trying to "reach the grassroots folks" across the country. Kerrigan and his staff have been sorting through more than 1,000 ideas that have come in, from how to use technology creatively to "who should sing what song when."
Kerrigan, 39, a native of Lancaster, Mass., is co-founder and president of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, a nonprofit that provides services to the families of fallen service members from the state. The University of Maryland graduate received his political education from Sen. Edward Kennedy, another public figure that — like his current boss — engendered intense ideological and personal passions. Kerrigan called both men "great leaders," who, he said, "are willing to work outside the bounds to find ways to bring more people into the process."
The questions won't get any easier as September 2012 approaches. There is one thing everyone in the city can support: the DNC Charlotte team's commitment to community service — as individuals and as a group. "It's a big part of our lives," said Kerrigan. And it's a good way to get Charlotte in your corner.