What the DNC means for the region; how to get involved

Susan Shackelford

When the Democratic National Convention (DNC) rolls into town Sept. 3-6, keep your sunglasses handy. The intense glare of an anticipated 35,000 visitors, including 15,000 in the media, will be shining on the Charlotte region.

One thing many of them will see are 10 digital Realtor® billboards that will be active for four weeks around the time of the convention. It was the association’s Government Affairs Committee and Government Affairs Director Elizabeth Barnhardt who led the effort for billboards — which are being paid for with grants from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) and North Carolina Association of Realtors® (NCAR). But more broadly, what will the DNC mean for the region? Reflections asked a handful of observers who have a keen sense of the area as well as knowledge of other urban regions, the media and high-profile events. The magazine also checked out volunteer and other convention opportunities Realtors® might enjoy.

Visibility, volunteers

Torre Jessup says that the convention could be the turning point in the city’s visibility internationally. “Such free PR is unprecedented here in Charlotte,” says the deputy director of the DNC’s local host committee, Charlotte in 2012. “I encourage everyone to invest in this — with money and time. Both are very important.”

Charlotte in 2012 is charged with raising $36.5 million to help defray convention expenses. Also, dating back to 2011, the committee has been signing up volunteers to work during the event. While that opportunity is now closed, people can still volunteer through interest groups connected to Charlotte in 2012.

People can also attend the host committee’s public kick-off event in uptown Sept. 3, called CarolinaFest 2012. It’s open to the public. The Sept. 6 nomination acceptance speech by President Obama will require tickets. Ticket information will go out to those who have expressed an interest at www.charlottein2012.com, Jessup said.

Meanwhile, Donors, Volunteers, Ambassadors — best known as DVA Charlotte — is one of the volunteer interest groups anyone can join. Each participant gives $20 and 12 hours of time to become a part of the nonpartisan group for women of all ages. The money goes toward the host committee’s $36.5 million fundraising goal, and the hours help put on DVA Charlotte events, which are before and after the convention.

Realtors® Sabrina Brown and Josie Mazzaferro met through DVA Charlotte. While some have nicknamed the group the “divas,” Brown and Mazzaferro don’t fit that description.

Not only have they become trained DVA Charlotte team leaders, they have established a subset of the group, DVA Charlotte-Real Estate. It’s open to anyone in the field, male or female; is not affiliated with the association and has the same joining requirements as DVA Charlotte. For more info, click here.

Charlotte on the map

In terms of what the DNC will do for the region, Mary Newsom sees it potentially raising the stature of the area. As deputy director of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, she sees that stature having a long way to go.

When she spent a year studying at Harvard in 2007-2008, Newsom found Charlotte wasn’t on the national radar. “They were so completely uninterested in places like Charlotte,” says Newsom, a longtime Observer editor at the time. “People in Boston, New York and Washington don’t think much about the rest of the world … and let’s be honest; they are the people who run it.

“When they do think of other places, it’s LA and the Bay Area,” she continues. “The rest of the country is filed under ‘Other.’ Among those, it’s ‘Big Places We Know’ such as Chicago, Seattle, Miami, New Orleans and Detroit, and then, it’s ‘All Others.’”

The DNC’s potential downside is a local distaste for “messy protest politics,” Newsom says. “To the extent the city is unable to handle that without being heavy handed, it will be a problem.”

Andrea Ware, director of economic development marketing at the Charlotte Chamber, believes the DNC’s big benefit is visibility. “It’s raising huge awareness,” she says. “We hope companies will say, ‘Let’s add Charlotte to the mix’” of places for start-up or relocation. Many times for companies it comes down to available real estate, access to the world — a good international airport — and reasonable cost of living. We have all that.”

Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, sees the DNC as “one more valuable point” in raising the city’s image.

“I’m not sure it’s a game changer,” he says. “A city’s image is cumulative. Charlotte is extremely fortunate that it is now racking up a list of points in minds around the U.S. and the world.”

Another important impact, Hanchett says, could be self-assessment, reflecting on how others portray Charlotte as well as how the area handles the event. “The convention can help us see ourselves more clearly,” he says.