Local residents headed to Democratic convention
SALISBURY — A variety of Rowan County residents, from high school students to local police officers, will take part in this week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
Salisbury resident George El-Khouri said he is going to the convention as a state delegate in honor of his father, Joe, who passed away last month.
“I’ve been a Democrat all my life, and my dad was, too,” he said. “I’m looking forward to carrying on my father’s legacy.”
In 1988, El-Khouri and his dad were both delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Ga.
They were the only father-son pair of delegates at the convention, the only Arab Americans there from North Carolina, and the only Arab Americans in the country who were Al Gore delegates. Michael Dukakis won the presidential nomination that year.
Democratic delegates will discuss the party’s platform, hear several speakers and vote for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as their nominees in the 2012 election.
“Even though my candidate did not win in ‘88, I’m pretty sure my candidate’s going to win the nomination this time,” he said with a chuckle. “Being able to make that vote for President Obama to be re-elected, it’s sort of a special thing, you know?”
The Democratic National Convention starts today with a community festival, and its official business will take place Tuesday through Friday. It follows closely behind the Republican convention, which was held last week in Tampa, Fla.
Al-Khouri said he’s proud that North Carolina is hosting a national convention. He said everyone interested in politics should try to go to one of the Democratic or Republican conventions, because “you get a special feeling” there.
Michael Bitzer, political science professor at Catawba College, called the convention “a Mecca for those of us who are political junkies.”
He’ll be working with WSOC-TV for the entire week in Charlotte offering daily commentary, perspective and analysis. This will be Bitzer’s first national convention, and he said he’s looking forward to hearing Obama, Biden and former President Bill Clinton speak.
“I’m going to be interested to hear some of the reactions of the delegates — what they’re thinking and what kind of energy level they feel back home,” Bitzer said.
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Veleria Levy, chair of the Rowan County Democratic Party, will be going to her first convention as a delegate for North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District.
Levy said she was honored to be elected as a delegate by other party members in the district, and she can’t wait to get to Charlotte.
“You will be looking at a footprint of America in the Democratic National Convention, because we have such a diverse group that is mixed together,” she said.
As someone living in a heavily Republican county, Levy said she is most looking forward to “being in a room full of Democrats.”
“Knowing that it’s being held in North Carolina, the North Carolina delegates are near the front,” she said. “We’ll have a chance...to be right there when all the speakers speak, and we can actually see them.”
Levy said more than 200 people from Rowan County are taking buses to Charlotte on Thursday to see Obama accept the Democratic nomination for president. She said that only includes people who got tickets through the local and state parties.
Members of the public were given a chance to sign up for a limited number of community credentials through Obama for America N.C.
Volunteers in North Carolina also had the opportunity to earn guaranteed tickets to the acceptance speech through the 9-3-1 program. If they worked nine hours over three shifts for the Obama for America campaign, they earned one seat in the audience.
Emma Labovitz, 16, a junior at Salisbury High School, earned tickets through that program with her twin sister, Maddie, and a friend. They helped with voter registration efforts by making phone calls, knocking on doors and going out in the community to ask people if they’re registered to vote.
“I’m an Obama supporter, so of course getting to see him speak is really exciting,” Labovitz said. “Even if you don’t like Obama, it would still be a good opportunity.”
Labovitz, who wants to run for president herself someday, said she’ll always remember being a part of the campaign process and getting to see Obama accept the nomination.
“I think it’s awesome that the convention is allowing the general public to have the opportunity to come be part of a historical event,” Labovitz said. “It’s something that I’m thankful I get to take part of, and I’m thankful that so many people are going to get to share in this experience.”
Also headed to the acceptance speech Thursday are Fred Corriher Jr., former president of Catawba College, and Salisbury resident Ollie Mae Carroll.
Excited to hear Obama
Corriher, who is going with his wife, said this will be his fourth Democratic National Convention. Carroll said it will be her first.
“To hear Barack Obama – I am jumping up and down,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to see him in person. ... And I’m hoping that I’ll see (First Lady) Michelle Obama there too.”
She cautioned that people need to get their tickets activated in order to attend the convention. This can be done by the Democratic party or at www.demconvention.com/about/register .
Corriher said he’s excited both for himself and for Charlotte.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence,” he said. “I hope that Charlotte, the community and everybody else is able to rally and be up to the occasion.”
Jeff Kiker, of P&G Security in Salisbury, said his company is helping provide security at the convention.
“We’ll have three at a time, 24-7,” Kiker said. “They’ll be special people chosen for this particular event based on their presence, professionalism, communication skills and how they deal with the public.”
The Salisbury Police Department also is sending a group of officers to Charlotte to help with security, said Deputy Chief Steve Whitley.
“We’re excited and pleased to be a part of it,” he said. “For some of the folks working, this will be their first exposure to something of this magnitude. You kind of get to see history unfold right in front of your eyes.”
Whitley said the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department asked Salisbury police to participate soon after the city was awarded the convention.
He said he can’t discuss specifics, including how many officers will be going or what they will be doing, because of national security concerns.
“There will be no noticeable impact to service here,” Whitley said. “If I hadn’t told you they were going, you wouldn’t notice a difference.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.