Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
Guest Host: Rebecca Roberts
In just a few weeks, Charlotte, N.C., will become the epicenter of Democratic politics. The “Queen City” will host the president, Democratic delegates, journalists and thousands of protesters for the Democratic National Convention. Beyond the official events, Charlotte is preparing for big parties, big marches and heavy security. We preview what’s in store, and get a read on the political winds in this battleground state.
- David Swindell Professor of public policy, UNC Charlotte
- Ana McKenzie news and culture editor for Creative Loafing, Charlotte, NC
- Julie Rose Reporter and Producer, WFAE Charlotte, North Carolina
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, two weeks from today, Charlotte, N.C., will host the president, Democratic delegates, journalists, including Kojo and his crew, and thousands of protesters as the Democratic convention gets underway.
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSBeyond the official events, the city is preparing for big parties, big marches and heavy security. We preview what's in store and get read on the political winds in this battleground state with a crew of folks seating altogether in WFAE in Charlotte, N.C. Julie Rose is a reporter with WFAE. Welcome to the program.
MS. JULIE ROSEThanks, Rebecca.
ROBERTSAnd David Swindell is a professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Welcome to you.
PROF. DAVID SWINDELLThank you very much.
ROBERTSAnd also joining us is Ana McKenzie. She's news and culture editor for Creative Loafing, Charlotte's alternative weekly paper. Thank you so much for being here.
MS. ANA MCKENZIEThank you.
ROBERTSAnd, of course, you can get in touch by calling 800-433-8850 or email us at email@example.com. What stories do you want to hear from the Democratic convention in Charlotte? What do you know about Charlotte? What you don't know? You can also get in touch us with us through Facebook page or send us a tweet to @kojoshow. So Charlotte, first of all, it seems that there's a lot of cities that end up having kind of buyer's remorse once they do everything they need to do in order to attract and attention. How is the city feeling two weeks out, Julie Rose?
ROSEOh, well, we're far from buyer's remorse. I think if you talk -- I mean, at this point, I think there's still just a lot of hope. Obviously, we're in sort of the final stages, the sprucing-up stages. You know, the roads are getting repaved. I noticed this morning on my commute, they're putting flowers in some of the medians on the freeway that I've never ever seen flowers before.
ROSESo, you know, we're putting our best foot forward. I think, as a city, the city officials are really hopeful that if nothing else, Charlotte will be on the radar, you know, moving forward that we won't have to always say Charlotte, N.C. I still have family members who think I live in South Carolina and...
ROBERTSOr Charlottesville, Va., right.
ROSE...in Virginia. Exactly. So there's a lot of that right now.
ROBERTSAnd, David Swindell, you know, the state has gotten a lot of attention politically. It was a victory for President Obama in 2008, considered a swing state or battleground state, certainly this year. What politically is it -- how would you characterize it?
SWINDELLWell, certainly, I think it had a lot to do with why Charlotte won the bid because being a battleground state the way it was it's going to be a very hard pickup for the Democrats this time around, given the economy, and bringing the show here does a lot for really galvanizing folks to get out and vote, and that's going to be the key to whoever is going to -- outcome in -- ultimately win North Carolina.
ROBERTSDo you think it will help?
SWINDELLYeah. I think it will. Ultimately, it will really help galvanize the Democrats into being very active and getting people out to the polls.
ROBERTSI know you're all just inundated with political ads. Is it all the time, all day long, every channel?
SWINDELLYes, yes, it is.
SWINDELLThere's a lot.
ROSE...Rebecca, this is Julie again. Honestly, just the other day, I was thinking, you know, I would love to just see an ad for something else. I don't care what it is...
ROBERTSRight. Car insurance, please.
ROSE...Tide or anything, please. Something besides the Obama-Romney ads and the superPACs. And one thing that's kind of strange for Charlotte, people don't always realize is that we're actually -- our media market also covers quite a bit of South Carolina, upstate South Carolina. So we literally have not had a break since the South Carolina Republican primary in February. There has not been a lull in political advertising since that day. So I think we're kind of we're over it...
SWINDELLWe had -- we did have a bit of an interesting primary, even though the presidential primaries were pretty much resolved for us in early May, but we did have a gay rights, our gay marriage amendment on our Constitution, which also created a whole lot of political activity and a lot of advertising. So it has been an intense several months.
ROSEGreat business for the television stations right now, a lot of ad revenue.
ROSEIn fact, they're some of the big winners of the convention coming here. I mean, they're getting a lot of additional revenues as a result of that.
ROBERTSAnd who else is winning? Ana McKenzie, how would you characterize the sort of success stories of Charlotte so far?
MCKENZIEThe success stories of Charlotte, I would say, you know, as the alternative weekly, we've been focusing a lot on the activist community in Charlotte, and it's been really great to see the community sort of come together and blossom and really take this advantage to bring their message forward. You know, we're -- Charlotte is the home of the second largest -- or one of the largest banks in the country, anyway, Bank of America, and now the largest utility in the country, Duke Energy. So we have quite a stage, you know, to give to activists and the protesters who are coming, so I think that's been really great to watch.
ROBERTSWell, because of that banking center, Occupy has been part of Charlotte for a while now. Do you think that's likely to be the big voice around the convention or there are other groups who are talking about coming?
MCKENZIEWell, actually -- so the sort of biggest protest we're expecting is the march to -- sorry -- the Coalition to March on Wall Street South, which is happening on Sunday -- the Sunday before the convention. That is a coalition of about 80 groups, statewide, local, national. I'm sure Occupy will have quite a presence, but, you know, we're also expecting, you know, Greenpeace, some other people to come. So it's kind of hard to say, but, obviously, I think Occupy will definitely be here, certainly.
ROBERTSAnd, Julie Rose, the convention touted itself as being open and transparent, but, of course, there's always security issues, even when protest groups don't announce that they're going to show up.
ROBERTSHow has the security situation been?
ROSEWell, we just found out about a week and a half ago exactly what it's going to look like to the extent that they will tell us at this point. The Secret Service has been involved on -- in this process, working with our local police department, and it's pretty standard to see a lot of street closures around the two venues. We do have one advantage in that the two places where the convention will be happening, Bank of America Stadium, where the president is going to give his Thursday acceptance speech and then the arena, the basketball arena where the first two days of the convention will happen, they're not too far apart from each other.
ROSESo most of the closures, the traffic impact, there will be a lot of closed streets, a lot of -- a couple of schools in the uptown area -- that's what we call it, by the way -- uptown is -- downtown is uptown in Charlotte. So that will be, you know, there are some schools that will affected in that loop, but it's a pretty, you know, condensed area. And, yeah, access is going to be tricky, and we do have -- I'm sure Ana could speak to a formal route that has been established for protesters to march, and they get to -- they've applied for a specific time to be able to do that. They've been assigned in a very orderly fashion when they get to do their march for 40 minutes.
ROSEBut I think we're expecting protesters to push those limits as much as possible, and there will be a lot. I mean, you won't be able to get -- if you don't have credentials, you can't get within a block or so of the venues for the convention. And even if you do have -- even if you don't have credentials, you still will have to be a couple of blocks away, even just for, like, walking around you'll have to go through some checkpoints and show your ID just to kind of get to some of the businesses in the area.
SWINDELLThere's concentric rings as security around the heart of the convention area.
ROBERTSAnd this idea of orderly protests, which -- and probably an oxymoron but -- and the idea that you -- these groups applied for a time that each sort of have their moments in a very specific place. Is that a pipedream on the convention's side that that's going to work as smoothly as they thought?
MCKENZIEYou know, I think it's a way to bring some order to, quote, unquote, "chaos." That being said, I don't know if there's going to -- I haven't. I certainly haven't heard of any plans to be violent, or, you know, I think everybody who's coming to Charlotte, who will be in Charlotte at least will hope to remain, you know, calm and to live their messages peacefully as possible. You know, we did have sort of two run-throughs earlier this year with the shareholder meetings for Duke and Bank of America.
MCKENZIEWe had some protest activity outside of both of those. Both went on seemingly, you know, without a hitch, I would say, especially, you know, Bank of America, everybody was kind of biting their fingernails and wondering what was going to happen there. But, you know, for the most part, people were singing. I mean, you know, I saw cops on the phone with Occupy trying to figure out, you know where everyone was going to move next.
MCKENZIEEverybody, you know, it's almost on a first-name basis. I mean, I think that there has been a good, for the most part, a good, you know, friendly relationship between CMPD and our local protesters. It will be interesting to see how 35,000 people plus, you know, two to five to 10,000 protesters will change that.
ROBERTSYeah. Because even people who aren't there to protest and get attention get annoyed at waiting in long security lines or not being able to find a place to park or, you know, being in an unfamiliar place. So it tries even the friendliest cop relationship to have this many people.
MCKENZIEYeah. Absolutely. And I think, you know, to their credit, I think CMPD, you know, I've seen this guys in action, I think they have, for the most part, been really friendly and have tried to maintain, you know, order in a very respectful way. Obviously, they're not going to be the only police department present. You know, we're expecting some more to come in. Secret Service is going to be there.
MCKENZIEThat changes the ballgame a little bit, but, you know, CMPD was tasked to set the tone for how security will be handled at the DNC. And if everybody follows in their footsteps, I think, we'll be OK.
ROSEYou know, Rebecca, this is Julie. One of the things that the city did do was pass an ordinance about six months ago in anticipation of the Democratic National Convention that allows the city manager to declare an area and a certain time period an extraordinary event, and they have done that for the entire downtown area, essentially, and all of the parks within the downtown area.
ROSEAnd what that means is that this ordinance gives the local police additional powers to search people, so backpacks, they can search. They say they'll be looking for, you know, potential -- the intent to do harm, but it does give them pretty broad-ranging search abilities. And so if you've got a backpack on, the police because of this designation and you come inside the zone, they can search your backpack and, you know, see what you've got.
ROSEIn theory, things that could be thrown and cause injury, even a water bottle, could be considered problematic. The police have said we're looking for intent. We're not trying to harass, but they do have those extra powers. And that has created a little bit of -- I don't know -- the protesters are a little wary that potentially the police and especially the visiting officers from other areas, you know, could take advantage of that and perhaps feel a little zealous.
MCKENZIEI think it's -- yeah. It's definitely created some tension. You know, I think that for this many people to be here, obviously, everybody is a little worried about security. But I think to sort of perpetuate this idea that that, you know, the cops have more power and because we don't really know who else is coming, we don't know the others, you know, I think, yeah, it does definitely heightens some tension.
MCKENZIEI think it makes people a little more scared of what, you know, I'm not really sure. I don't know who's coming, and I think that's been a problem, especially after that extraordinary events ordinance was passed.
MCKENZIEIt seems very anti-activist.
ROBERTSYou had a blog post, I guess, that said that it's Possible Anonymous is coming.
MCKENZIERight. Yeah. So I was sent a link to a website that I presume, you know, Anonymous created and basically that website said that they were coming. I don't think (unintelligible) unspecified numbers.
ROBERTSWe should explain, by the way, who they are.
MCKENZIERight. So Anonymous is -- they call themselves a hacktivist group. They're sort of known for hacking different websites, and they claim to be, you know, not really under any sort of leader. They mostly gather and discuss on websites, like sort of chats and -- so it's kind of hard to explain exactly who they are.
MCKENZIESo, yeah, so basically they -- they're coming to Charlotte. On their website, they said, you know, that they should expect -- that we should expect, you know, members to bring marbles. I'm not really sure what that meant. They gave sort of a cryptic warning about TV, bus -- events, you know, stay away from TV vans. We have a plan -- all very cryptic. I don't know what it means. But I know CMPD was worried about it. They sent that website to all the TV stations in town. I think radio stations too.
ROBERTSThat's Ana McKenzie, news and culture editor for Creative Loafing. We're also joined by Julie Rose of WFAE and David Swindell from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. We need to take a quick break. But when we come back, more of a preview of the Democratic Convention from Charlotte, and we'll be taking your questions. If you're one of those people who thinks a convention is a nonstory, what story would you prefer to hear? You can give us a call, 800-433-8850, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be right back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We are talking about Charlotte, N. C., as it gears up for the Democratic convention two weeks from today. Kojo will be broadcasting from there when it starts. And here with a preview is Julie Rose, reporter with WFAE in Charlotte, David Swindell, professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Ana McKenzie, news and culture editor for Creative Loafing. They're all in a studio at WFAE in Charlotte.
ROBERTSDavid Swindell, Duke Energy, there's been some talk about the CEO there and his role in bringing the convention to town. Give us a little update on that.
SWINDELLYeah. The CEO played a significant role in helping bring the DNC to Charlotte. He led a coalition of community leaders to help our bid through the process. And at the same time, of course, Duke Energy was engaging in this new merger with Progress Energy, thus becoming the largest energy utility in the country. The problem arose when that merger took place because the CEO of Progress was supposed to become the CEO of the merged entity.
SWINDELLAnd he was for a few minutes before the board removed him and put Rogers, the CEO of Duke, in the CEO chair of the merged entity. That has created some issues. People think that there was some bad blood there that was not disclosed prior to the merger. And so there's some investigations going on now. There's -- there have been some calls for Rogers to step down. And that's kind of overshadowed what should've been a moment of triumph for him with regards to having brought the DNC to town.
ROBERTSLet's take a call. This is Mark in Annapolis. Mark, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
ROBERTSHey, Mark. You're on the air. Go ahead.
MARKOK. I once -- in the mid-'60s in Holland, there were protests. The Provos, who were the provocateurs, brought marbles to throw on the streets when horses -- when cops were on horseback because the horses could trip because of the marbles. And that's -- I'm not sure what today's protestors in or this summer's protestors in Charlotte have in mind. But that's a possibility.
ROBERTSHa. Mark, thank you for that. It's curious 'cause you never know with Anonymous whether marbles is actually, you know, a code name for something entirely different. But tripping up the mounted of policemen is an interesting role for marbles. We also -- we got a tweet from Anzie7304 (sp?), who says -- this is an answer to the question of what you'd like us to cover at "The Kojo Show" during the convention.
ROBERTS"They'd be need if you'd go to barber or beauty shops, neighborhoods, find out what people are saying about D.C. and use that at convention coverage." What are people talking about in Charlotte? I mean, are they looking forward to having this convention? Are they completely up to their necks in politics and done with it as you all say, after the inundation of ads? You know, what is the topic du jour in town do you think, Ana?
MCKENZIEYeah, we just actually ran a story about this. So Republicans are taking a vacation or could care less. They're actually having a music festival around the DNC to, I guess, celebrate, you know, make their noise. You know, it's interesting uptown which is, of course -- or downtown which is basically the financial district. Obviously, there are a lot of bankers and executives who work there. You know, a lot of them are working from home that week. A lot of them are taking vacations.
MCKENZIEWhen the transportation plan was released, we talked to some different people who would be affected by that. Some people who ride public transportation to Charlotte, that constitutes anybody from, you know, an executive at Wells-Fargo to a guy we talked to a welder who works just outside of uptown. And, you know basically what he was saying was, you know, I don't have the luxury of working from home, you know. If I don't go to work, I don't get paid.
MCKENZIEI'll have to wake up extra early and, you know, stay in traffic, you know, for a half or many more hours. And basically any time spent away from work means less money in my paycheck. That would be difficult for someone who works paycheck to paycheck. So, you know, I don't know. It's hard to gauge how Charlotte sees this. That's definitely, I thought, one of the more -- that was one of the more interesting points that I had heard.
ROSEAnd, hey, Rebecca, this is Julie. The -- one thing that I also think is kind of interesting is the challenge that, sort of, the uptown boosters the Charlotte city officials find themselves in because they, you know, this is a PR moment for Charlotte, and they're really hoping to also -- you've got this whole campaign to encourage Charlotte residents to actually came up and experience.
ROSEAnd, you know, I know. I have friends who think it's kind of cool, kind of a big deal that all these like celebrities are gonna be in Charlotte and maybe, you know, TV celebrities too. And so there is an effort to sort of encourage people to come and treat this like you would, I don't know, like a film festival placed for sightings to sort of come and loiter, I guess and check it out.
ROSEAlso, one thing that is kinda different about this year and the DNC folks make this really clear is that they are having a big public festival on the first day of the convention. They have shortened it by one day. So rather than a four-day convention, it's three days. And then the first day, the Monday before the convention gets underway, is a Labor Day, and they're shutting down the main drag in uptown Charlotte. And it's gonna be a street festival, plus the chance for the Obama campaign to round up volunteers and voters.
ROSEBut, you know, live music and all that jazz. So, you know, street festival-type atmosphere. They're hoping to encourage -- CarolinaFest is what they're calling it to you know, get folks to come from all around the region, I guess, and have some good family fun if they like.
SWINDELLYeah, and a lot of the college students are planning on coming for that. It's gonna be, you know, it's gonna be a big event. And it's one way to actually in a great community in to the event which is not always the case in some of the conventions that we've had in the past and (unintelligible)
ROBERTSYou know, quite the opposite. I mean, often the community is discouraged. First of all, they leave town if they can because it's such pain.
ROBERTSBut also, you know, homeless people disappear from the streets. And, you know, it's the kind of thing where sort of life as normal is suspended on purpose.
MCKENZIEYeah. And, you know, I guess to the credit of the host committee and the DNC, you know, we've sort of, been frustrated about their open and accessible. The most open and accessible convention in history is sort of the thing they keep saying over and over and over again, and they have not been tremendously open and accessible when it comes to media requests about, how's the fundraising going? Where is the security perimeter gonna be?
MCKENZIEYou know, who will be speaking -- whatever. All of the sort of interesting kind of insider stuff that we wanna know. But it is -- that when they say open and accessible, they're referring to the fact that there will be this big public celebration the first day of the convention, and a whole bunch of people have also been encouraged to come to the stadium and see President Obama give his speech.
MCKENZIEAnd there will probably be some other entertainment that night at the stadium. So that's the sort of open piece that the Democratic National Convention folks are really harping on.
ROBERTSBut, David, you mentioned that the CarolinaFest will being an opportunity for the Obama campaign to round up some volunteers and voters. But are there any undecided voters left in North Carolina? I mean...
SWINDELLNot a lot. Yeah, there's -- it's pretty -- folks have pretty much galvanized. And it's interesting also because Charlotte's going to go for Obama. It's the surrounding counties is the ones that are gonna be very hard for him to pick up. The rural areas in North Carolina will be very hard for him to pick up. So it's not like they are going to be a whole lot of undecided folks who are gonna be wandering the streets at CarolinaFest looking for information on the Obama campaign.
SWINDELLThese are folks who they are gonna be targeting to be the people to get people to the polls. These are the volunteers that are gonna be making the phone calls to get the donations, to get people to make those small donations that are so critical to the Obama campaign. So those are the kinds of volunteers that they're looking for. They're not looking to convert the Romney voters into Obama voters. That's not gonna be a profitable use of their time.
ROBERTSWe have a tweet, who says, "Please cover the food in crazy parties, please." Now, as I recall, it is not especially easy to get a drink in North Carolina on a Sunday and certainly not on Labor Day.
SWINDELLIt will be this year.
ROSEActually, yeah, it will be this year. Yeah, they actually changed some rules around. So now liquor stores will be open on Sunday. So that's really exciting for anyone who isn't involved in the DNC after...
SWINDELLIt would be flowing freely.
ROBERTSAnd what about the food? Is that a big security issue in addition to just wanting it to taste good? Julie?
ROSEYou know, a couple of things on that front. First of all, you know, there are -- there are a quite a few local catering and restaurateurs towards in Charlotte that have been able to DNC-related gigs, you know, feedings delegations and so forth. And they have bitten off a gigantic castle because getting anything, any food inside that security perimeter requires going to an outside location outside of the uptown area and having all your food checked and, you know, all of this -- and then like escorted in in your refrigerated trucks to get to the location.
ROSEAnd so it's a big hassle and something that they, I guess, they've all kind of been anticipating, and they're not trying to figure out how to deal with. In terms of other food in the Charlotte area, it's kind of interesting that the local health department is sort of amped-up its inspections that week, and there's gonna be a whole team out on the street, checking to make sure your restaurants are up to code. And I guess we don't want any delegates to get sick that weekend, you know, besmirching the food.
ROBERTSWell, I saw that quotation of, you know, "Don't buy oysters off of a bubba with a truck who says he's got a really good price."
ROSERight, right. So they have also been having, you know, trainings with the -- there are -- I mean, in addition to the downtown area being the financial center, it's also one of the big food areas. And so a lot of restaurants are hoping to get spillover action because there won't be a lot else going on that week downtown. So they're hoping to get the convention business.
ROSEBut I think that quote you're referring to is, you know, just warning people that, you know, stick to your tried and true providers, sources for your food, for your restaurant. Don't be, you know, tempted by people coming in it because we're also seeing the opportunists. I mean, there will be...
SWINDELLThey always are.
ROSE...the cabs that are the coming in that week to try and get the business and, you know, the pedicabs and the different food trucks, whatever. People trying to capitalize on the moment to get a little extra income.
MCKENZIEThat being said though, I think food isn't my specialty at the office. But I was listening to some of our editors who talk about promoting some of the lesser known eateries around town. There was a talk of apparently killer barbecue coming out of a gas station near downtown or, sorry, uptown Charlotte. So, you know, I think as -- yeah, I mean, you wanna stay to -- stick to I'm sure where your hotels tell you. And -- but, you know, I think there are some great places around Charlotte that are kind of off the map that are definitely, definitely worth looking into.
ROBERTSAnd I should mention that "The Kojo Show" will be taking to people at Party Time, which is apparently is organizing some events at the two major venues about the logistics of that when they get down there. But for people who haven't spend much time in Charlotte and I'm among them, is it a pretty compact city? Is it easy to get around, or is it the kind of place where you find yourself in, you know, bridges and tunnels trying to get from one place to another?
SWINDELLIt's actually a fairly condensed city considering this -- considering how big it is. I mean, we're, you know, the 17th largest city in the country, but we don't have the kinds of problems that other cities of our size typically face. We don't have grotesque sprung. We're still wrestling with that but not to the extent that other growing cities are like Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth. So we don't have a lot of tunnels, and I don't know if there any tunnels in Charlotte.
ROSEWe also don't have a subway.
SWINDELLNo. We have a light rail, but we don't have anything like that that really creates those kinds of security issues for one thing but also traffic snags at those jug points create.
ROSEYou will need though, you know, for any delegation staying downtown there, you know, there's a lot of stuff within walking distance, a few blocks here and there, to get to various restaurants and venues and so forth. And then there's an outer ring that's outside the security zone of historic neighborhoods that tend to have more of the Charlotte charm and some of the more interesting eateries and so forth. And those are -- yeah, and that it would be a stretch to walk to some of those locations.
ROSESo, I mean, you will need to have some kind of transportation, and incidentally, a lot of the delegations are actually staying in Concord, which is, you know, probably a 20, 25 minute drive from the downtown Charlotte area. Also, if you're interested in seeing the big NASCAR raceway, you need -- you definitely need a car for that. You can't get to that location. But there are some cool, you know, we have some nice, new museums and other little historic sites to see in the downtown area that you could get to one foot.
SWINDELLYeah. Absolutely. There are lot of the bus tours that the delegations are arranging for their folks to go out and see some of the things that are outside the uptown area.
ROBERTSAnd again, "The Kojo Show" will be there. They're going to Tampa for their public convention first and then heading to Charlotte when the convention starts there in two weeks. So thank you all so much for joining us. That's Julie Rose, reporter with WFAE in Charlotte, David Swindell, professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Ana McKenzie, news and culture editor for Creative Loafing. They all joined us from the studios of WFAE. Thank you all so much.
ROBERTSWe need to take a quick break. And when we come back, flying the family unfriendly skies, is it safe to send an unaccompanied minor on a commercial flight? Join us next.
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