Anthony Foxx and Jim Rogers on the Democratic National Convention and Charlotte
This morning, I had the opportunity to watch Anthony Foxx and Jim Rogers discuss the Democratic National Convention in a moderated conversation (that is to say, a moderator asked questions and then Foxx and Rogers answered them, more or less. Usually more) at Levine Museum of the New South.
I wouldn’t say that any news came out of the event. If it did, you’ll surely hear about it, as several media outlets were there. But here are a few things I noticed:
• Foxx looked more comfortable than I’ve ever seen him look. He’s really grown into the mayor’s role. Early in his tenure, I thought he often looked a little stiff, with forced smiles and frequent nonanswers. But this morning he was relaxed, candid, funny, thoughtful. At times, Rogers—who layered almost all of his answers with a pronounced strain of boosterism—sounded like more of a politician that Foxx did.
• That said about Rogers, this morning was the first time that I’ve heard someone involved with Charlotte’s DNC effort directly criticize the job Denver did with the 2008 DNC. (Doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened; I just haven’t heard it if it has.) Rogers was there, and he called it a bad experience. I thought I saw a couple members of the local DNC media relations scribbling some notes after that remark.
• Rogers is the moneyman for the convention. It appears as if the fundraising strategy will be to hit corporate donors to support the local committee, and target individuals for the national effort. In fact, the Democratic Party has committed to not accept money from corporations or political action committees, and it has capped individual donations at $100,000. It needs to raise $36 million. I think Rogers and his team will focus on large donors across the country and try to raise that sum with as few people as possible. Though Rogers did make the point that he hopes thousands of people in Charlotte contribute—any amount—because he thinks it’s important to have broad support.
• There is a clear need to start to focus on the message that Charlotte will send to the world with this convention. Michael Marsicano, CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas, asked the last audience question, and he noted that he’s had lots and lots of conversations with local leaders about what opportunity this convention presents for Charlotte, and almost everyone he’s talked to has a different idea of what that opportunity could be. Do we fast track Uptown parks? Do we shine a light on CMS and use the spotlight as a sort of rising tide to lift the boat? Foxx replied that the work of picking a few community-wide initiatives would fall to our local committee, which is led by Dan Murrey. But it’s clear that focus needs to be achieved soon, or there will be lots of talk about what “needs” to be done, but nothing will actually get done.
• Foxx said that running the city and preparing for the convention are two separate tracks. He said that lately he’s noticed that the media, in particular, has begun to filter lots of news—and non-news—through the lens of what it means for the convention. He urged everyone to remember that as we deal with our issues in Charlotte–positive and negative–that it’s important to do what’s right for Charlotte and not only be focused on how things will be perceived by the national media interested only in the convention. Well, he said it more concisely, but I’m pretty sure that was his point.
• Foxx got the biggest laugh of the morning, and it was a legitimate room-wide laugh, not one of those polite we’re-laughing-because-an-Important-Person-tried-to-make-a-joke laugh. In answering a question about when he knew Charlotte was going to get the convention, he offered up a pop culture reference. “Does anyone remember that old Saturday Night Live skit about Pat?” he said. “Pat was an androgynous character and you could never really tell if he was a boy or girl. Everything he said could be read either way. Well, there was a lot of that.” The room started to laugh as people remembered the skit. “Because you’re always looking for signals. ‘Well, what does that mean?’” It was funnier in person. Here’s the character: