CHARLOTTE, N.C. - This fast-growing Sun Belt city may be known primarily as the home to banks that are too big to fail, but attendees at this week's Democratic National Convention are more likely to remember it for its Southern hospitality.
The contrast to Tampa, Fla., has been shocking.
Last week during the Republican National Convention, downtown Tampa looked like the Green Zone in Iraq circa 2005, with a huge uniformed presence and virtually no street life. The message was clear: The general public was not welcome.
But on Monday, Charlotte hosted a "CarolinaFest" within shouting distance of the arena where Democrats this week will nominate Barack Obama for a second term as president. Thousands of people milled about, wandering up and down the central street in the downtown the locals call uptown, listening to bands and munching on barbecue.
"We wanted more ways for the public to get involved," and CarolinaFest is a chance for the locals to do just that, said Democratic National Convention Chairman Steve Kerrigan.
The event was not without political meaning, though. Pro-Obama speakers appeared on the two stages during the breaks between the musical acts, and fresh-faced young North Carolinians patrolled the crowd toting clipboards and helping people to register to vote.
North Carolina native James Taylor was set to perform at the end of the day at CarolinaFest, and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx mused that he hoped that he wouldn't see fire and wouldn't see rain.
No such luck. At about 4 p.m., the skies opened for the daily downpour that's common in these parts.
Empire State labor leaders put on a brave face Monday at a New York State delegation breakfast at the convention, which is being held in a right-to-work state where few of the workers at the hotel and other convention facilities are unionized.
Asked if he would have preferred that the convention be held in a state more friendly to unions, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the 100,000-member Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said: "I believe the news of this convention is America coming together. The Democratic Party is not going to ignore our workers in any part of the country."
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, agreed.
Pointing out that state workers in North Carolina are fighting for the right to collective bargaining, Mulgrew said: "We're hoping having the convention in North Carolina will help folks here in their big struggle."
Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, spoke at the breakfast and gave a shout-out to the employees who were serving it. She stressed how important unions have been to building a better economic future for many people in Buffalo and elsewhere.
Huge throngs of protesters have not, as predicted, occupied downtown Tampa or downtown Charlotte during these convention weeks, but some "Occupy" protesters did manage to rain on this city's Labor Day parade Monday.
After a protest that drew about 800 Sunday, about a dozen people from the Occupy movement inserted themselves into Monday's parade, lodging themselves between the local postal union and a group backing the election of a candidate for district court judge.
"Left wing, right wing, stop that chatter! Corporations own the government, your votes don't matter!" they shouted, according to the Charlotte Observer.
One of the protesters carried a sign calling Obama a traitor in words that are not fit to print.
"The obscenity is ridiculous, this should be a family function," Samantha Lamontagne, who was watching the parade with her two children, ages 7 and 11, told the Observer. "The fact that security is letting them in the parade is absolutely ridiculous."
- Jerry Zremski