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Look who’s talking about Charlotte

By Tim Funk
tfunk@charlotteobserver.com

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People sure have a lot to say about Charlotte these days.

“Democrats: Buyers’ remorse for not choosing St. Louis as convention site?” asks a Post-Dispatch newspaper headline in the town passed over for Charlotte in the bid to host the DNC.

“Summer in St. Louis isn’t looking so bad, huh?” says the story – suggesting Dems want a do-over in light of John Edwards’ woes, the state party’s sexual harassment scandal and N.C. voters banning gay marriage just as the president announced he was for it.

Amping up the drama is an Atlanta official taking a shot at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, where thousands of convention delegates and visitors will arrive.

In a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about that city airport’s new international terminal, Metro Atlanta Chamber President Sam Williams said the upgrade is key to the city’s economy: “Without it, we’d be Birmingham. We’d be Charlotte. We’d be Nashville.”

The trash-talk subsided – not – with CNN.com’s “city smackdowns” series pitting rival cities against each other. Political convention hosts Charlotte and Tampa, Fla., took center stage last week.

Former Charlotte Observer reporter Sarah Aarthun, now at CNN, wrote about the sights and sounds at Trade and Tryon streets: “I last stood at that intersection in the center of the city more than two years ago, right before I moved to Atlanta. I thought foolishly then that I needed a bigger city.

The truth is, I’ve never missed Charlotte more.”

Then it was CNN’s Alice Feigel’s turn to boast about Tampa. But she couldn’t stay focused.

“Many winters you’ll find yourself on the beach and even in the water as late as October. (Take that, landlocked Charlotte).” Celeste Smith

Young Republicans coming

They call it “the shadow convention.”

On July 13, as many as 1,500 Young Republicans from around the country will gather in Charlotte for their Political Action Conference.

Jonathan Bandy of Cary, North Carolina’s YR chairman, said the group chose Charlotte in part because Democrats will be here seven weeks later.

No one can accuse the Young Republicans of not aiming high. They’ve invited 200 prominent Republicans to speak. Among them: presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former presidential candidates Herman Cain and Rick Santorum.

Bandy says the group hopes to mobilize young voters and, at least in North Carolina, reverse the results of 2008.

“Frankly,” he says, “We think the youth vote can change that this time.” Jim Morrill

Dems ‘walking the talk’

When convention leaders announced in March their intention to spend at least one-third of their funds with diverse businesses, Astrid Chirinos commended organizers for “walking the talk.”

“I truly believe that they are very real and authentic in their intentions,” she said.

Last week, the executive director of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce Charlotte said members are indeed getting work.

“They’re getting opportunities in different areas, across the board: technology, janitorial, planning, construction,” said Chirinos, after a members luncheon with Mayor Anthony Foxx as keynote speaker.

“They’re getting subcontracts in those areas. Contracts? Some. But a lot of subcontracts.”

Moving forward, Chirinos said the chamber will look to the city to maintain that hiring pace. And the city should continue to use the online vendor directory launched to help local businesses land work during the DNC, she said.

“After the convention, it’s not like everybody is going to disappear … I want to make sure that the city keeps that perspective.” Celeste Smith

Pro-gay marriage plank?

North Carolina’s passage of Amendment One notwithstanding, big-name Democrats continue to call for a pro-gay marriage plank to be placed in the party platform when delegates meet in, um, North Carolina.

The latest to endorse this proposed marriage equality plank: Caroline Kennedy, who qualifies as Democratic Party royalty.

“There are few things in life more important than being able to marry and build a family with the person you love. This fundamental right should be available to all Americans, including gay and lesbian couples,” the daughter of President John Kennedy said in a statement released this month. “In our democracy, we are fortunate to have elected officials at all levels of government, and courageous jurists who have put their careers on the line, to uphold the promise of equality that is as old as our Constitution, and I hope that many more will follow their example.”

Also recently, Congress’ highest-ranking Democrat predicted that approval of a pro-gay marriage plank was a good bet when the convention opens in Mecklenburg County – which, for the record, voted against the amendment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said President Obama’s change-of-heart in favor of same-sex marriage seemed to remove any remaining stumbling blocks to including such a plank.

“The president’s in favor of it – I’m sure it will be (included),” Reid told The Hill newspaper in Washington. Tim Funk

Strip clubs prepare for GOP

Charlotte has its banks and Tampa has its … well, strip clubs.

Though many in the GOP call themselves the party of family values, Tampa’s purveyors of flesh can’t wait for the Republicans to come to town.

“Across the Tampa Bay region, many of the estimated 50 strip establishments are upgrading lighting, hiring dancers and creating private nooks to cash in on some of the 50,000 visitors expected for the GOP convention,” the Tampa Bay Times reported recently. “Long one of Tampa’s signature industries, strip clubs are preparing for the RNC as earnestly as the city has been repairing bridges, repaving streets and planting park benches downtown.”

Adult industry writers and operators told the Florida newspaper that Tampa strip clubs could earn as much during the GOP convention in August as they did during the 2009 Super Bowl.

“You’ve got a bunch of people coming to Tampa Bay. They’re not in meetings 24 hours a day. What do you think they’re going to be doing at night?” said Paul Allen, publisher of the Night Moves adult business trade magazine. “You can only eat so many steak dinners. You can only look at so many sunsets.” Tim Funk

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