Septembers Democratic National Convention in Charlotte will be the first time North Carolina has ever hosted such a major party gathering. So its fitting that the host state is sending a 158-member delegation that will be historically diverse.
The North Carolina group, to be headquartered at the Crowne Plaza Uptown, will have more young Democrats (32) than ever before. There will be more Hispanic delegates (five) than in 2008. The state delegation will also include its first transgender delegate and whats believed to be its first gay married couple.
And then theres Charles M. Johnson of Rocky Mount, who will turn 91 a month after the convention.
I know were the best state in the nation. We should have had (the Democratic National Convention) here long before now, said Johnson, a self-described Harry Truman conservative whos also a big fan of President Barack Obama, who he will help nominate for a second term.
Also noteworthy in a national party that asks state parties to meet affirmative-action goals: The North Carolina delegation includes 73 women; 60 African-Americans; three Native Americans; two people with disabilities and eight delegates who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Mecklenburg, the states largest county, will be represented by 26 delegates. The total for other Charlotte-area counties: Catawba, three; Gaston, three; and two each from Cabarrus, Union and Iredell County.
As a gay man and first-time delegate, Ryan Butler is looking forward to showing his support for Obama the first president to endorse gay marriage.
Butler, 33, and his partner tied the knot in a Canadian ceremony six years ago.
The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion, said Butler, a Greensboro attorney who is also president of the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina. Its always been a big-tent party. When you look out at the convention, you see people from all walks of life, all different sexual orientations.
Earlier this year the state party approved, for the first time, a LGBT auxiliary. It joins other such subgroups, including the Young Democrats, Senior Democrats, Democratic Women of N.C., the African American auxiliary and the Hispanic auxiliary.
Margaret Katherine Alexander, president of the Hispanic American Democrats of Mecklenburg County, said she will bring a different eye to a convention likely to champion issues important to Latinos. One such example would be the DREAM Act legislation that could offer a path to citizenship to young undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school or serve in the military.
Alexander, 58, who is Salvadoran-American, said she was inspired by her uncle, who fought in the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s. Ive carried his legacy of fighting for rights for people, she said.
Alexander now lives a five-minute drive from uptown Charlotte. But she grew up in Los Angeles and said shes looking forward to hearing that citys mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who will wield the gavel as chairman of the 2012 convention.
Spanning the ages
The age span in the N.C. delegate stretches from 18 to 90. Young Democrats are defined as anyone younger than age 36.
On the teen side of the scale is Vibhav Kollu of Concord. He started a Democratic club at Cox Mill High School before moving on to become president of the N.C. Teen Democrats and national political director for the High School Democrats of America.
I had the mindset of many teens that politics was blah, but my teacher was a really smart, funny person that ignited a passion in me, said Kollu, a native of India.
Johnson, meanwhile, is a World War II veteran who said he was born a Democrat (in 1921) and Ive been one ever since.
This will be his seventh Democratic National Convention his first was in 1988 in Atlanta, when he was a delegate pledged to then-Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee.
Over the years, hes served on the conventions rules, credentials and platform committees.
And four years ago, he met and offered some advice to then-candidate Obama, who was appearing at the states Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Raleigh.
Good advice, he said Obama told him.
And the advice was?
Youre going to have to ask the president that, said Johnson with a laugh.
Staff writer Tim Funk contributed.