Remember Heather Podesta?
Shes a high-powered Washington lobbyist, described not long ago as the It Girl of the Beltway political scene. Shes also the person who, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, called Charlotte grim.
Worse, she did it publicly, uttering the g-word to a Reuters reporter and also saying Going to the NASCAR Hall of Fame isnt reason enough to be in Charlotte.
Some Charlotteans, true to form, flipped out. Its not news that were a middle-sibling city, perpetually fretting about being bigger and better, perpetually worried that others will consider us something less. Which means now that the DNC is over, and uptown feels like its Christmas afternoon, the obvious question lingers: How did we do?
Exhale, Charlotte. We made it through the week without the big error that gets you remembered in the wrong way. That puts us in a small club of cities big enough to put on a big event.
What does that mean for our city? Theres no sure answer, but experts who study these things say its good to have your name be a part of important things even when its just a modifier (The Charlotte convention). And its more than a one-week thing. This national convention will forever be Charlotte in 2012, just as there was Denver in 2008 and Philadelphia in 2000. Thats the club, and the prestige of it can be helpful when businesses look for a place to operate or relocate.
Another thing were not sure of yet: the price tag. How much did Charlotte/Mecklenburg taxpayers spend on security and cleanup? If a massive bill comes due a month or two from now, our perception of the weeks success could change quickly.
We do, however, know this: Although there were a handful of complaints about shabby hotel rooms or obstructed view arena seats, Charlotte handled the big issues deftly this week.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police employed a smart strategy of force and flexibility, giving protesters time and room to protest, along with a place to sleep in Marshall Park. The result: Only 25 arrests, with no major incidents, according to CMPD.
Traffic also was a welcome non-issue, with some expected clogging thanks to street closings, but not the anticipated commuter nightmare. It helped that half of uptown didnt come to work this week, but regardless, its a good thing when the big traffic story is a dancing cop directing cars at Fifth and Tryon.
The rest of Charlottes story, well, weve heard it before. Visitor after visitor this week said the same things our guests usually say that the people are welcoming here, the entertainment choices surprising, the city so tidy.
And Heather Podesta? We caught up with her late in the week. City is great, she said by email. Folks couldnt be nicer. Food is delicious. Sites are fun and interesting. Really excited and happy to be here.
Perhaps shes just being a smart lobbyist, but it doesnt really matter. The Democratic National Convention didnt change what Charlotte is vibrant and friendly and yes, imperfect like any other city. Now we can add one thing to the list: A place that just pulled off a pretty major party.