RALEIGH N.C. -- Democrats on Saturday selected the remainder of the party’s 158-member delegation to September’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. And they did it with an emphasis on diversity.
Among those picked Saturday: Janice Covington of Charlotte, the first openly transgender person to serve as a Democratic delegate from the state.“It’s important to my community – to the whole LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community” – to be a part of the convention, Covington, 64, said. “We’ve always been left off the bus. Transgenders have always been the redheaded stepchildren.”
Ninety-three N.C. delegates were chosen at district-wide conventions in May. They’ll be among 6,000 delegates at the convention in Charlotte, including alternates.
The delegation also emphasizes youth, party officials said.
“As soon as we knew that the convention was going to be in Charlotte, we really, really wanted to give young people an opportunity to be involved,” said Sam Spencer, 27, president of the state Young Democrats. “The people in leadership wanted this to be the most youth-friendly convention in Democratic history.”
In 2008, the youth delegate goal was for four, Spencer said. The young Democrats had a goal of 19 delegates for this year’s convention, but even before Saturday’s convention, there were 20 regular and two superdelegates representing the youth vote.
“The purpose for all of this is that we have a North Carolina delegation that reflects the diverse coalition that elected and will re-elect President Obama,” Spencer said. “We’ve made great strides in North Carolina to make that a reality.”
At 18, Vibhav Kollu of Concord is among the youngest N.C. delegates.
After taking a civics and economics class his sophomore year at Cox Mill High School, Kollu became active in politics – starting a Democratic club in school before moving on to becoming president of the N.C. Teen Democrats and being elected national political director for the High School Democrats of America.
“It’s just amazing to renominate President Obama out of the many millions of Democrats that wanted to go to the convention,” Kollu said Saturday.
Kollu, who was born in India and lived in California and Pennsylvania before moving to North Carolina six years ago, said it was his experiences that made him a self-described liberal. But Kollu became politically active only after taking his civics class in high school.
“I had the mind-set of many teens that politics was ‘blah,’ but my teacher was a really smart, funny person that ignited a passion in me. He would talk about events in a nonpartisan way. He would put out both sides of an argument.”
Many delegates said they’re excited the convention is in Charlotte.
Charlotte’s Olma Echeverri, state chairwoman of the Hispanic-American Democrats, will be a delegate.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Charlotte and for North Carolina,” Echeverri said. “We want to make sure (the delegation) is representative of the state’s population and diversity, in particular, inclusive of Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, African Americans, and young people.”
Echeverri’s husband, German DeCastro, 70, served as a delegate at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Though not a delegate this year, DeCastro said having this year’s convention in Charlotte has elevated the city’s status on an international scale.
“The convention has put Charlotte in the world spot,” DeCastro said. .
“We had the two best seats in the convention, and we were able to listen to Barack Obama deliver his speech, which actually launched his national political career,” DeCastro said.