COMMENTARY | CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- During the past week, when Charlotte hosted the Democratic National Convention, two consistent compliments bubbled up from the visiting guests, media and delegates. First, how beautiful Charlotte's downtown is. Second, how nice the people were. Though delegates said Denver was different, they were still impressed with the Charlotte convention's energy for Obama despite the down economy. Granted, Charlotte did as much as any city in the world to push the global economy over the edge -- arguably more than any city -- but that's another story.
For this week, Charlotte sparkled.
More than any city I know of, the uptown/downtown looks brand new -- Disneyesque if not surreal. Kind of a Truman Show. Soaring skyscrapers are juxtaposed with iconic art museums and lush if tiny parks. Comedian Jon Stewart said that he'd been here three days and had not smelled any urine. With the possible exception of Salt Lake City, Montreal and Vancouver, Charlotte remains one of the cleanest cities I visited in my years as a sports writer.
And certainly the newest.
That's partially by design and partially by default. Where neither Charleston nor Asheville had any money to tear anything down in the 60s, Charlotte had money and tore everything down. In 1996, architect Cesar Pelli -- the designer of the Blumenthal Arts Center (where Bill Clinton entertained at a Wednesday Southern Nights party) and the Bank of America Corporate Center -- said that every city has its architectural coming of age. Charlotte's time, he said, is now. Several times during the past week, I'd be walking around the city and look up at the cloud-shrouded sky and see softened moonlight reflecting off the city's tower crowns, penthouses and museums and marvel.
Then I would trip over a barricade.
Or remember our civic paradox: Bankers built this. With taxpayer help!
All week, the Duke Energy tower loomed over South Tryon, flashing red, white and blue, while the sleek exterior curves of the NASCAR Hall of Fame designed by the I.M. Pei firm flashed the same colors on MLK Jr. Across from the convention center, where the journalists were holed up , the old juke box building on College Street that was once One Wachovia is still alive, thanks to San Francisco's Wells Fargo buying the struggling bank and keeping so many high-paying jobs here.
Thank you, John Stumpf.
The Democrats played their role, embracing the city's culture. The DNC named all the printers in its headquarters building after NASCAR drivers. Danica Patrick served the 6th floor, while Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch stared each other down on the 13th floor. The delegations from the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia had their opening night party at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and the fair and balanced voices of Fox News set up camp in the NASCAR Plaza tower. The Texas delegation rented Dale Earnhardt Jr's Whisky River on Tuesday night, followed by Ohio and Colorado Wednesday night.
No word whether the Texas two-step or West Coast swing prevailed, or which way Ohio leaned.
The oft-maligned Epicenter shone as the hub of activity as a media/party central. Set between the convention center and Time Warner Arena, and under new management of Geoffrey Curme and partners, it actually seemed to have matured from the days when it looked like someone had beached a Carnival cruise ship in uptown. The original developer, aiming for South Beach, got Myrtle Beach. Hopefully that will change.
Ultimately, what our guests loved most was the people. Everyone I talked to who'd been to Denver or Boston said Charlotte's people were the friendliest they'd met. "Charlotte was a gracious city," said Staci Pies, who was here from Maryland with Microsoft. "Everyone I talked to from the volunteers were very nice and excited the convention was here in their city. I was in Denver, and the energy here was pretty high too. Pretty vibrant."
Charlotte's light rail was a saving grace for journalists, delegates and volunteers alike. I rode it every evening from the New Bern station into the convention center, where I watched Yahoo!'s embryonic newsroom on one of its maiden voyages into digital structure. The people on the team caught Charlotte's vibe -- talented and focused yet courteous and friendly despite 24-7 deadlines and pressure. The only negative I heard in the journalistic mosh pit was the hotels -- people were strung out pretty far away.
All in all, a fascinating week. "Hollywood come to Charlotte," said Lanette Hanson of Charlotte as the lights flashed last call at the Ritz Carlton. Piers Morgan and John Kerry and me, we were among the last to leave. Great party.
Now it's back to reality. To everyone who lost a job or house or savings because of Charlotte's reckless banking practices, I apologize. Right now, that's Charlotte's -- and America's dark side -- greed. It's a bi-partisan problem, a government fueled more by money than conscience in service of a financial industry that manufactures personal wealth from thin air while creating nothing. America's disease is the cancer of more. Now we go back to our regularly scheduled programming, a partisan campaign funded by self-serving lies and distortions mocking the collective good while destroying America's middle class.