The Beat: Obama, barbecue, and the ‘woodchuck weather creature’

Asheville’s reputation as a top travel destination continued to grow last week, as outlets across the country reported that Charlotte will host the 2012 Democratic National Convention. In an email announcing the news, first lady Michelle Obama offered praise for our town, declaring that “Barack enjoyed Asheville so much when he spent several days preparing for the second Presidential debate that our family vacationed there.”

The decision is sure to raise the state’s political profile, and officials estimate that it will generate $150 million, according to the Charlotte Observer.  In “Democratic National Convention Puts Charlotte, South in Spotlight,” the paper reported that “The convention will bring President Obama to a county that helped him become the first Democratic presidential candidate in 32 years to carry North Carolina and drive a wedge into the traditionally solidly red South.” In her e-mail, the first lady wrote that Charlotte “is a city marked by its Southern charm, warm hospitality and an ‘up by the bootstraps’ mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South.”

However, Michelle’s lighthearted assertion that the the city has “great barbecue” generated a bit of embarrassing controversy. In a story that was picked up by Politico and other national outlets, the Observer’s editorial board declared that “she doesn’t know hushpuppies about Charlotte’s culinary scene.” In the blog post, “Charlotte = Great Barbecue? Who Knew?” the board wrote that “everybody knows to get the best stuff, you gotta drive north to Lexington.”

Or perhaps Obama was confusing the Queen City with Asheville? It’s possible, considering that when the first couple visited the town last May they made a beeline for 12 Bones Smokehouse. In “Obama Foodarama,” Xpress reported that it was a repeat trip for the president, who first visited the popular barbecue restaurant during the 2008 campaign.

In other political news, Xpress reported that the “Register of Deeds Race Takes Shape in Wake of DeBruhl’s Retirement.” According to the online post, the replacement of longtime Buncombe County Register of Deeds Otto DeBruhl is shaping up to be a battle between the young and old guards of the Democratic Party.

When DeBruhl announced his retirement on Jan. 31 after 32 years on the job, he expressed his preference for Assistant Register of Deeds JoAnn Morgan to take the helm, declaring that “there is not a more qualified register of deeds in the State of North Carolina than Joann.” But just a few days later Drew Reisinger announced his candidacy for the job and Democratic Party Chair Charles Carter sounds like he might follow suit.

Also, Xpress reported “Sen. Hagan Supported Bill Reducing Health-Care Paperwork for Small Businesses.” The freshman senator helped pass a bipartisan provision to “eliminate burdensome paperwork requirements from the federal health care law that would have forced small businesses to lose valuable time and resources.” President Obama has indicated that he’ll sign the bill.

Meanwhile, protestors gathered at the Vance Monument in downtown Asheville for “A Vigil in Defense of Educational Access.” According to the Xpress blog post, the group was part of a statewide Feb. 1 protest of a proposed North Carolina measure that would ban undocumented immigrants from the state’s public universities and community colleges.

And in other education news, the Asheville Citizen-Times—which, it should be noted, has a newly designed website – reported that “Budget Woes Lead to Layoffs at UNC Asheville.”

“Seven employees lost their jobs and 22 unfilled positions were permanently eliminated at UNC Asheville as the university grapples with the state budget crisis,” according to the article.

Luckily, however, the layoffs seem to buck a recent trend, according to “Unemployment Rates Fall in Asheville Area, Most of WNC.” The AC-T article reported that “The jobless rate in Buncombe County was 7.6 percent, down from 8.5 percent a year ago and 8 percent in November.”

However, in an article that helped further illustrate the complicated local economic picture, the daily paper also reported that the “Asheville metro area ranks 6th in credit card debt.” According to a recent study by the credit reporting agency Equifax, “the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area — which includes Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties — ranked sixth-worst nationwide.”

“The area ranks poorly because its wages are low, which drives up the percentage of income going to pay off debt,” explained Celeste Collins, executive director of OnTrack Financial Education & Counseling in Asheville.

In better news, several ground hogs seemed to be in agreement last week that this year’s unusually harsh winter weather will soon end. In “Asheville’s ‘Woodchuck Weather Creature: Spring Around the Corner,” the daily paper reported that, despite sunny skies, the Western North Carolina Nature Center’s Nibbles the groundhog did not see her shadow on Feb. 2.

Nibbles’ prediction of an early spring was consistent with those of Grady the Groundhog in Chimney Rock and Punxsutawney Phil, the country’s most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania.

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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