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Hundreds briefly shut out of arena

Staff reports Staff reports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Several hundred delegates and media members were shut out of Time Warner Cable Arena for a time Wednesday night after the building reached capacity, according to local authorities.

Officials say the arena doors were shut, per orders of the Mecklenburg County fire marshal. It happened sometime around 8:15 p.m. But shortly before 9 p.m., authorities reopened the doors and let the crowd in.

Mecklenburg County Fire Marshal Rob Kinniburgh said the arena had reached capacity.

“We were at 25,000,” Kinniburgh said. “We had a lot of people standing in the hallway, away from their seats. We slowed the egress until they ... went back to their seats.”

Officials said hundreds of delegates and reporters were in the crowd outside the arena doors. While the doors were closed, witnesses reported some of those standing outside the arena shouted, “Let us in! Let us in!”

Theo LeCompte, convention chief operating officer, said, “It happens every time. We’ve got to work with them (fire officials) to keep it safe.”

According to several reports, the doors were closed at least two other times later in the evening but were reopened a short time later.

Giffords to attend DNC

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is attending the Democratic National Convention, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Hayley Zachary said Wednesday that the former congresswoman was excited to be at the convention, but Zachary stopped short of discussing details of Giffords’ schedule.

Giffords recently moved back to Tucson as part of her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head in January 2011.

She and her husband, Mark Kelly, have also just started a political action committee called Gabby PAC. Giffords developed a reputation as a centrist in Congress, and a news release announcing the PAC said that it would only support candidates who work for bipartisan solutions to issues.

Tampa mayor ‘enjoying this’

Last week Tampa Bay Mayor Bob Buckhorn was scurrying around his town during the Republican National Convention, meeting with law enforcement, city leaders and the media.

Wednesday, he sat quietly in the middle of a row at Time Warner Cable Arena, a delegate to the Democratic convention.

“I’m enjoying this immensely,” he said. “Your downtown is very different than our downtown. It is very retail-oriented and pedestrian friendly.”

For Buckhorn, being a delegate is different than running a convention city.

“It feels weird,” he said, “because my inclination is to go grab a police radio and start taking charge.”

Tribute to Burgess delayed

Harvey Gantt and the family of the late Susan Burgess will have to wait another day for the convention’s official tribute to the woman who was as responsible as anyone for bringing the Democratic convention to Charlotte.

Gantt had been scheduled to introduce a video about Burgess, a former Charlotte City Council member and member of the Democratic National Committee.

It was Burgess, who died of cancer in 2010, who believed that her hometown could host a convention, when few others did.

Her son, Jason Burgess, said Wednesday’s delay came after some earlier speakers had gone long.

James Taylor’s set shortened

He’d planned to sing four songs at Thursday’s installment of the Democratic National Convention, but after the event was moved back to Time Warner Cable Arena, singer James Taylor’s set was “trimmed” in half.

He plans to sing “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved by You” and the state’s unofficial anthem, “Carolina In My Mind.”

But it’s not Taylor’s shortened performance that disappoints him most.

“I just hate it that 65,000 people have been told they can’t come,” said Taylor, raised in Chapel Hill. “I’d wanted as many fellow North Carolinians to see this president as possible. It goes to show you can’t get the weather right all the time.”

Thirsty? Cocktails on the menu

The delegates get most of the attention in the convention hall, but behind curtains on the suite levels, big-dollar donors and VIPs are drinking $100 bottles of Absolut vodka and $31.50 six-packs of Budweiser.

The alcohol options are listed in the “premier package” menu obtained by The (Raleigh) News & Observer from a Democratic convention website. The “Hometown Carolina” lunch or dinner package – which serves 20 and costs $1,149.95 (before service, delivery and taxes) – includes baby back ribs, collard greens, mac and cheese, butter biscuits and chicken pot pie. Levy Restaurants is catering Time Warner Arena.

Want to celebrate? A bottle of Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne from Epernay, France, costs $220. Or make it a real party with a pitcher of “Margarita Madness” made with Jose Cuervo Gold for $48. Serves six.

Republicans were quick to jump on the menu. They issued a news released entitled, “The People’s Convention?”

The old and the young

Oldest DNC delegate Elzena Johnson had a great day Wednesday. “I was interviewed all day,” said the 97-year-old delegate from Terry, Miss.

She got a special thrill Wednesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. She met Cory Sagapolutere Sene of American Samoa, at 17 perhaps the youngest DNC delegate.

“I’m so pleased to meet you,” Johnson told Cory. “Please come visit me in Terry.”

“I would if it wasn’t such a long drive,” the teenager said.

Warren takes aim at big banks

The delegates loved Elizabeth Warren, a Senate candidate in Massachusetts who became a liberal darling by going after Wall Street greed.

Speaking Wednesday night in Banktown, she took aim at big banks.

“After the financial crisis, President Obama knew that we had to clean up Wall Street,” she told the delegates. “For years, families had been tricked by credit cards, fooled by student loans and cheated on mortgages. I had an idea for a consumer financial protection agency to stop the rip-offs. The big banks sure didn’t like it, and they marshaled one of the biggest lobbying forces on earth to destroy the agency before it ever saw the light of day. American families didn’t have an army of lobbyists on our side, but what we had was a president.”

The Associated Press and staff writers Lynn Bonner, Tim Funk, Andrew Dunn, John Frank, Jim Morrill and David Perlmutt contributed.

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