GOP is surprise party on DNC panels

Tim Funk and Steve Lyttle

The Charlotte Observer

Sep 28, 2011

Local committees for Democratic convention include Republicans

Andy Dulin

The local group preparing Charlotte to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention released the names of its host and steering committee members Tuesday. And the list mostly reads like a Who's Who of Carolinas Democrats.

Except for the handful of Republicans, that is.

That's right: At least four members of the GOP will be part of Charlotte's effort "to put on the greatest convention that this country's ever seen," as Dan Murrey, CEO of the host committee, put it at a Tuesday news conference.

Among those appearing in front of the microphone with Murrey was Charlotte council member Andy Dulin, a Republican who asked Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to name him to the host committee.

Dulin made it clear his focus will be on showcasing Charlotte and enriching local businesses rather than propelling President Barack Obama - the star of next September's convention - to a second-term victory.

"I would like for the conventioneers and the service people who come to Charlotte ... to have the best time they've ever had, spend lots of money, have a safe time - and then be disappointed in November (2012)," Dulin told reporters. "But I'm not worried about November now. I'm worried about safety and business opportunities in September 2012."

Joining Dulin on the 85-member host committee - co-chaired by Foxx and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers - will be the two other Republicans on the Charlotte City Council, Edwin Peacock and Warren Cooksey.

Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, also a Republican, will sit on the 33-member steering committee, an advisory group that will be chaired by another former Charlotte mayor, Harvey Gantt, a Democrat.

Dulin & Co. may get some guff from rank-and-file Republicans, but N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said it was a smart move by the host committee planning the Democratic gathering.

"All of those folks are good citizens," Hayes said, and know that the convention is an opportunity to show off the Charlotte region.

"We've got to help our local economy," Hayes said. "The president and governor sure aren't."

Speaking of Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, she will be one of the two honorary co-chairs of the host committee; U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is the other.

The honorary co-chairs of the steering committee: Former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl.

Every Democratic member of Congress from the Carolinas also was named to the host committee, as were two former members - John Spratt of South Carolina and Bob Etheridge of North Carolina - who lost their seats in 2010.

The host committee also will include Democratic state legislators, state officials, county commissioners and Democratic activists.

Former UNC System President Erskine Bowles, who ran for the U.S. Senate twice as a Democrat, is on the host committee. His wife, former textile executive Crandall Bowles, is on the steering committee.

Unlike the national Democratic Party's Convention Committee, an unapologetically partisan group that's planning the actual convention in Time Warner Cable Arena, the two local committees announced Tuesday will focus on making sure Charlotte is ready for its big moment on national TV. Also important: that city and state groups feel included and have a voice in the planning.

Murrey said both committees will meet regularly - by conference call, if necessary - and offer "valuable feedback" from their various constituencies around the state.

Members of the host committee live all over the state, while members of the smaller steering committee are mostly local and represent various communities - faith, business, labor, Latino - whose "hopes and concerns" will become part of the discussion as the city gears up for the convention, Gantt said.

Charlotte isn't setting any precedent by including Republicans in this effort. The host and steering committees that readied Denver to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention had Republican members - and GOP financial contributors.

In gearing up for a national political convention, "it's a community thing, not a Democratic thing, at the host committee level," said Chris Lopez, communications director for the 2008 host committee in Denver. "You need everybody pulling for you, helping out - no matter what their political stripes are."

In Tampa, Fla., site of the 2012 Republican National Convention, there are at least three Democratic business leaders on the city's host committee governing board, said Matt Becker, chief operations officer.

On Tuesday, Republican Dulin said he's contributed no money to the host committee effort so far, but wouldn't rule it out down the road.

As the Democratic convention approaches and the partisan rhetoric flies, he said he hopes to keep his focus on having a safe and profitable convention.

"Am I going to have more Democratic paraphernalia floating around the city of Charlotte than I like? Sure. Would I like to be supporting the Republican Convention? Sure," Dulin said.

"But the Democrats are coming. And I'm committed to helping the host committee and the steering committee make a great convention for the city."

Staff Writer Celeste Smith contributed.

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