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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Democratic National Convention 2012 Notebook: Marking an anniversary, planning parties

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 6:43 PM

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By now, the press knows part of the Democratic National Convention mantra by heart: “open and accessible,” to describe the convention, and “right on track,” when asked how raising the $36.6 million budget is coming along.

It was a year ago today that Charlotte was announced as the site of the 2012 DNC, and as a reminder Steve Kerrigan, the convention's CEO, held a press conference on Wednesday. He listed all that’s happened over the past year and gave a preview of what’s to come.

Kerrigan ran through a few items, from the kickoff last September to the recent announcement of a presidential speech in Bank of America Stadium set for this September; he promised formal media briefings for coming attractions. Some of those expected announcements are: decisions on where each state is staying so neighborhoods will know what to expect, additional business opportunities (a chance to apply for contracts and subcontracts for transportation needs is due this month), more details on the convention layout at Time Warner Cable Arena (the DNCC gets the keys July 14) and security plans.

That last item has been a concern, especially since the city announced what will and will not be allowed for security reasons. Kerrigan deferred those discussions to the coordinating city and federal agencies, saying only that the goal is safety, with plans that are the “least disruptive.”

Kerrigan said the free and open to the public event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Sept. 3 would be a chance “to engage more Americans in a real way” and “celebrate this region,” but aside from saying the host committee is looking to use the infield “in a creative way,” the event is still taking shape. How many people would have to show up for the day to be considered a success?

“I’m not going to play the numbers game,” he said.

In this electorally important state, it’s impossible to talk convention without talking convention politics. After President Obama's State of the Union address, the Bank of America acceptance speech will be his opportunity to have the microphone by himself, said Kerrigan, to “lay out his vision” as he prepares for what promises to be a tough general election.

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On Tuesday, a different sort of group met the press. Representatives of 13 regional venues chosen the — as called in the handouts — “hospitality hotspots” for visiting media and delegates answered questions at the Charlotte Museum of History. All were excited, especially Bob the Owl, who made a fuss over the shoulder of Bechtler Museum of Modern Art president John Boyer.

Making the announcement at the Charlotte Museum of History — home to the oldest surviving building in the city, the Hezekiah Alexander House — set the tone and theme. The goal is to introduce visitors to the cultural, artistic, outdoor and educational history of the region, and perhaps have more than a few return.

Dan Murrey, host committee executive director, and Mary Tribble, chief of event planning, met the media, along with Tom Murray, the executive director of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, who seemed content to remain low-key. (That’s understandable, considering controversy surrounding the tenure of his predecessor, Tim Newman.)

Instead of throwing one big party, two days of pre-convention celebrations are being spread out, the better to show off the region from Gaston County to uptown. It was good news, as well, for firms — the party planners, caterers, florists and others who get more chances to compete for convention business.

The N.C. Music Factory (home of Creative Loafing) provides a place to party that also happens to be on the National Register of Historic Places. It will host the Sept. 1 welcome for 15,000 media types. The next day, state delegations will travel to 12 sites for celebrations: the Carolina Raptor Center, Charlotte Museum of History, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Discovery Place, Duke Mansion, Gantt Center, Mint Museum Uptown, NASCAR Hall of Fame, U.S. National Whitewater Center, Wadsworth Estate, the Levine Museum of the New South and the Bechtler. State delegations haven’t yet been matched up with the various destinations.

The Levine is already dispelling some Southern stereotypes. Its president, Emily Zimmern, said that a few of the 6,000 delegates that have stopped by already have learned something. “They’re surprised this isn’t Tara; this isn’t ‘Gone with the Wind.’” She told me that several toured the “Courage” exhibit, which tells of the fight and sacrifice that led to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, and “were genuinely surprised that a Southern museum would present that story in such a candid way.”

Shirley Fulton, former Superior Court judge, is owner of the Wadsworth Estate, which she renovated and transformed into an event space. After Tuesday’s announcement, she related her move to its Wesley Heights neighborhood 20 years ago. She recalled its timeline, dating back to segregation and restrictive covenants through a period of decline to its current revitalization. “It’s a part of Charlotte history,” Fulton said.

Host committee spokeswoman Suzi Emmerling told me that because the hospitality budget is in a separate fund from the money being raised for the convention itself, the restrictions barring corporate money, donations from lobbyists and political action committees or individual contributions over $100,000 don’t apply.

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

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