comments

Preparations under way for president's address tonight in TWC Arena

By April Bethea, Tim Funk and Pam Kelley
abethea@charlotteobserver.com

More Information

Poll

Did the Democratic Party make the right decision in moving President Obama's speech indoors?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. President Barack Obama’s Thursday night acceptance speech at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium was to be, as Davidson resident Vonda Lee put it, “a once-in-a-lifetime, history-making situation.”

She was thrilled she would be there to witness it.

Now, Lee is among 65,000 people who won’t be attending, following the Democratic National Convention Committee’s decision to move the big speech to Charlotte’s much smaller Time Warner Cable Arena.

The committee announced the move Wednesday, citing safety concerns due to potential rain and thunderstorms. As a result, attendees will be limited to 15,000 donors, official guests, media and delegates attending the convention.

The news, which came as workers had nearly finished stadium preparations, angered some Obama supporters and left others resigned. Some wondered whether the decision would deflate voter enthusiasm. Many had stood in line for hours or put in volunteer time with the Obama campaign to get the free tickets.

“I don’t hate the Democratic Party because of it,” said Charlotte’s Terry Shipley. “I’m just disappointed.”

Said Charlotte’s Lesa Kastanas: “We need something for the rest of us – those of us who don’t have shiny credentials.”

Campaign officials say they’re working on that. They’ve promised shut-out ticket holders a call with President Obama at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. And they said they’re trying to arrange an event where the president would meet with the ticket holders before the election.

Brent Colburn, Obama for America communications director, expressed sympathy and encouraged ticket holders to watch the live broadcast at home and hold block parties.

“We share their frustration and disappointment,” Colburn said. “This isn’t a decision we wanted to make. It was a decision we felt we had to make.”

There’s a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms Thursday. While the storms will have moved east of Charlotte by evening, one could hit earlier, at a time when thousands would have been in the open-air stadium or standing outside, waiting to clear security.

Democrats knew they were taking a calculated risk when they chose to culminate the convention in the stadium. But odds seemed in their favor. The chance of thunderstorms drops in September, and most years in Charlotte, Sept. 6 has been a dry and fairly hot day.

Many Republicans on Wednesday questioned Democrats’ motives, alleging they made the last-minute switch not because they feared thunderstorms, but because they knew they’d have many empty seats.

Said radio personality Rush Limbaugh: “There is no other event scheduled outside with the same weather forecast that would be canceled. They wouldn’t cancel a baseball game. They wouldn’t cancel a football game. They wouldn’t cancel a picnic.”

Organizers had hoped to replicate the crowd of 80,000 that had watched President Obama accept the Democratic nomination in Denver in 2008.

During a Panthers’ game, the stadium seats about 74,000, but it was being reconfigured to hold more people. Obama would have spoken from a stage on the 50-yard line. Chairs for delegates would have covered the field.

So the Dems say they would have filled up the stadium – unless it did rain and many people stayed home.

Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University, said the Obama campaign almost surely considered the best- and worst-case TV images – “optics,” in political parlance – and decided not to risk Obama addressing a crowd thinned by thunderstorms.

“A half-empty stadium would go against this narrative that the convention was building toward a crescendo that would explode in enthusiasm for the president,” Huffmon said. “Safer to be at Time Warner Arena, where the roof is liable to pop off because these delegates are going to go nuts.”

Campaign officials said they’re disappointed. “Look, we wanted this to go forward,” Colburn said. “As you saw in Denver, this was an organizing tool for us. We lose the ability to do in-person (voter) registration. That was a huge thing for us in Colorado.”

Some Obama supporters are taking the bad news in stride.

“I may not be in the arena, but I will be there in spirit,” said Teresa Meyers of Waxhaw, who had waited in line for tickets for nearly eight hours.

Angela Willis, who works at Wells Fargo and lives in Matthews, suggested on her Facebook page that people attend parties to watch the president’s speech. “I was absolutely disappointed, like everybody else,” she said. But she figures she can still enjoy listening to the speech with others who share her enthusiasm.

Some out-of-towners had planned to come into Charlotte Thursday for the speech. Now they’re staying home.

Mark Laskowski, a social studies instructor at Raleigh’s Ravenscroft high school, was to bring 10 students. The students volunteered for the campaign over the summer to receive the tickets. “The opportunity to be at a convention, that is a rare thing,” he said. “But in no way am I upset. You’ve got to be safe.”

One of his students, 16-year-old Rosie Waring, said she was pretty disappointed. “Maybe I’m just not as mature as Mr. Laskowski,” she said.

Because of the weather-related venue change, US Airways announced Wednesday that it will allow customers traveling from Charlotte on Friday to move departures to Thursday at no additional cost.

One potential bright spot from Wednesday’s news: Uptown bars and restaurants could see a bump in business. Some Obama fans who had planned to attend the stadium speech said they’ll still head uptown to be near the action.

Vonda Lee, for instance, said she’ll be uptown and on the lookout for a big-screen TV.

Vic Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said he doesn’t think the venue change will hurt Charlotte. Most attendees would have been local, he said, and the tight security wouldn’t have allowed much chance to spend.

Austin Baird, Adam Bell, Maria David, Victoria Guida, Steve Lyttle, Jim Morrill, Claire McNeill, Steve Harrison, Mark Price, Kerry Singe and Kelley Sousa contributed.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search