The Democratic National Convention kicks off next week in Charlotte, North Carolina.
This city of the “New South” has a lot in common with Los Angeles. Here are four of them.
A bit of history
Angeleno history buffs like to brag that the city was founded five years after the United States declared its independence from England.
Tom Hanchett, historian at Charlotte's Museum of the New South, says his city wins different bragging rights. Charlotte’s known as the Queen City, named after Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III of England, "which means Charlotte is actually older than the United States."
But also new downtowns
Charlotte has always been a trading city, founded at the site where two Native American tribes used to meet and swap goods. Like L.A., Charlotte’s downtown — which the locals call "uptown" — is small. And new.
Long-time Angelenos used to say if a building was 30 years old, it was time to tear it down and build something new.
Hanchett says Charlotte casts that urban renewal in a different light, saying the city reinvents itself over and over again. The region has gone "from fields to factories to finance."
Finance fueled the local economy and created a newly-rebuilt city center. Charlotte invented the concept of the interstate bank and became a financial center — now the second largest in the nation.
As it grew, Charlotte wanted to be taken seriously by the rest of the country and banks needed an image they could sell to new employees. Hanchett says banks wanted to recruit the best talent, "to be able to compete – maybe not with New York or Los Angeles, but at least with Minneapolis."
Like Los Angeles — which a half-century ago convinced the Dodgers to move west and then built the Music Center— Charlotte invested in museums, built downtown football and basketball stadiums. They even built a light rail.
Hanchett says Charlotte didn’t just build for the cultural elite. Charlotte is also the home for the Billy Graham Library and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
"The Democratic Party is very conscious that that part of the world is a big part of the voting world," he says. "And so a city that embraces all these things, I think that’s why the Democratic National Convention wants to come here."
The reinvention of Charlotte as “The New South” was more than just brick-and-mortar. It was also political. Hanchett says the old South took pride in its reputation as the most conservative region in the US. Race played a big role.
Hanchett says it was conservative Democrats "because Lincoln, the Republican, had freed slaves. And it’s really not until the 1960s when Johnson, the Democrat, passes the voting rights act which really changes the racial/political playing field that white, conservative southerners begin leaving the Democratic party, becoming Republicans."
North Carolina’s long-serving U.S. Senator Jesse Helms was the poster boy for this political transformation from Dixie-crat to GOP conservative leader.
Fast-growing minority populations
But the new residents who flocked to Charlotte reinvented its political and ethnic history. The city elected its first black mayor in 1983 — ten years after Angelenos voted Tom Bradley into City Hall.
Today, Charlotte boasts the second fastest-growing Latino population in America.
Demographic changes have made North Carolina a swing state. Four years ago, Barack Obama won the state, which is in play again this year. Democrats are hoping to woo those voters again by holding their national convention in the Queen City of Charlotte.
The chairman of that convention? The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa.