Local Democrats rally, volunteer as party gathers in Charlotte
September 11, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
The television audience for the 2012 Democratic National Convention remembers the event for speeches from former President Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and more, but local delegates to the convention said projects far from the convention floor defined the days in Charlotte, N.C.
The agenda for the event included the usual party business — a blur of speeches and celebrations — and Southern hospitality aplenty.
Washington Democrats sent 121 delegates and eight alternates to the convention. The delegate ranks included Issaquah resident Jennifer Sutton and Sammamish resident Dorothy Willard.
Sutton joined a volunteer effort from Craftsman and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” host Ty Pennington called House United. The project enlisted volunteers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., to start construction on a home.
Then, organizers shipped the half-completed building to Charlotte and volunteers at the Democratic National Convention finished the project. The completed home is then donated to a North Carolina veteran.
“I think it was beautifully symbolic, joining the houses together,” Sutton said.
In Charlotte, Sutton and Willard joined a group of 5,556 delegates and 407 alternates — and about 15,000 journalists — from Sept. 4-6 to listen to Democratic luminaries, such as Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, before President Barack Obama accepted the nomination for another term.
On the Web
Read about local delegates’ experiences at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., at http://bit.ly/P6h9UB.
“In contrast to the Republican side in Tampa, instead of the speeches being about the speaker, it was really about the president of the United States,” Willard said.
Delegates from Washington sat in the Time Warner Cable Arena near the front, stage right, and enjoyed unobstructed views as officials spoke.
Elsewhere, local delegates joined about 100 volunteers at a USO event to assemble care packages and pen notes for military service members. Michelle Obama and Jill Biden joined the project unannounced.
“People were definitely energized and felt like it was important to do,” Willard said.
International attention for local delegate
Organizers shifted the president’s speech indoors to the arena from the planned outdoor rally at Bank of America Stadium due to inclement weather.
“I wasn’t disappointed for myself to have seen him indoors,” Sutton said. “I was disappointed for the 50,000 people who had wanted to see him speak and were not able to see him in person.”
The media contingent at the convention sought out Washington delegates.
Journalists from Australia, China and Poland interviewed Sutton. So, too, did reporters from domestic outlets USA Today and The Associated Press. On Sept. 6, a Getty Images photographer captured Sutton waving a “Ready for Joe” placard as Vice President Joe Biden strode to the lectern.
The experience differed from the last time she participated in a national political gathering.
Sutton served on the host committee for the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The atmosphere in Charlotte differed from the convention a dozen years ago, as Democrats nominated then-Vice President Al Gore for president.
“That’s part of why I wanted to go this time, because I knew it would be a completely different experience to go not as a worker bee but as a delegate,” she recalled.
Sutton credited Obama for adding public events to the convention schedule, especially after encountering empty seats at Los Angeles’ Staples Center in 2000.
“When I did this in 2000, I was able to get my husband a credential, but even the upper tier when Gore was accepting the nomination was pretty empty, and I thought it was a waste of an opportunity,” Sutton said.
‘Costco’s story is the American story’
Emiliana Chavez, another Washington delegate and a Seattle resident, said the convention speeches offered attendees a key — and unfiltered — glimpse at current and future leaders.
“The one thing that I realize when I see these people face to face, is that in the media and the blogosphere, and especially on television, they only play such small snippets of these people and then it gets spun, spun, spun,” she said. “It’s nice to hear people speak for more than that 30-second clip and actually hear the full message.”
In addition to elected leaders, the convention lineup also included a speaker rooted in Issaquah.
Costco cofounder and former CEO Jim Sinegal offered a forceful defense of Obama’s economic policies Sept. 5 in a convention speech.
Sinegal said Obama is more likely to create a hospitable climate for job creation than Republican rival Mitt Romney. The former leader of Issaquah-based Costco also countered GOP criticism of Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line.
The speech came as Democrats sought to burnish business credentials. Costco, founded in 1983 by Sinegal and cofounder Jeffrey Brotman, operates 608 warehouses around the globe.
Sinegal said the company created more than 116,000 jobs in the United States and expects to add 7,000 more in the year ahead. Costco is the largest employer in Issaquah.
“We built our company in a place where anyone can make it with hard work, a little luck and a little help from their neighbors and their country,” Sinegal said to delegates and attendees. “I’m here tonight because Costco’s story is the American story.”