Monthly Archives: November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Becky Lettenberger/NPR

From WFAEats, we hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! If you’re still struggling with recipes, NPR shares some special Thanksgiving secrets from Chris Kimball, host of America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. Check out some of his cheap, easy and inventive suggestions and recipes here.

And for a NPR holiday tradition, here is the recipe for Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish, a specialty of Susan Stamberg’s mother-in-law.



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Charlotte builder irked at DNC choice of ATL firm

Ron Stodghill

A few days ago, I was chatting with former Charlotte Councilman Ron Leeper about the prospects of the Democratic National Convention being a financial jackpot for local businesses – and minority firms in particular.

For Leeper, a commercial builder, the question was loaded. Last month, his company lost in its bid to overhaul Time Warner Cable Arena and the Charlotte Convention Center.

Leeper, among the city’s largest African American builders, figured he had a solid shot at the contract, which is relatively small in dollars yet huge in symbolism.

In the bid, Leeper’s firm, which generates $15 to $20 million in revenues, had partnered with the Denver-based design firm Populous and building industry powerhouse Turner Construction, which had won previous DNC convention contracts in Denver and Chicago.

“The company has done the last two DNCs and did them well, so I thought it was good bet,” Leeper said.

Also on the team was Charlotte-based architectural firm Neighboring Concepts, owned by Darrel Williams, an African American and former Mecklenburg County commissioner.

Not good enough.

Charlotte’s convention officials awarded the work to Charlotte construction kingpin Rodgers Builders, Arizona-based Hunts Construction Group, and H.J. Russell inAtlanta, a large African American-owned construction company. The DNC ended up selecting Populous and Neighboring as the architects, and paired them with the selected firms.

“I was on the wrong team,” Leeper said, wryly. “Of course, I was disappointed. But I’ve gone after many contracts have haven’t been selected.”

Leeper is known around town for his level head, Christian faith, and civic involvement. Surely, a lot of his clout is rooted in his decade as a councilman, but he’s also gained respect for the legions of urban youths he has touched through various non-profits.

And then there’s his generous donations to Foxx and other local Democrats. During Anthony Foxx’s first mayoral run, Leeper contributed the $4,000 maximum, and put some cash in Foxx’s coffers in this latest re-election run. “This second time, I wasn’t so eager,” Leeper admits. “Plus, he already had a big pot.”

Leeper emphasizes that Foxx and Co. owe him nothing in return for any financial support, but he also says: “You’d think it would help.”

He adds: “I consider myself to be a good Democrat. I spent 10 years on city council and have contributed to every major Democratic candidate who was consistent with my views.”

So, while Leeper doesn’t want to sound bitter over losing the DNC construction bid, he also makes it clear that this so-called “Peoples’ Convention” could end up disappointing many of the business people who, like himself, make up the fabric of this community.

“The die seems to have been cast,” he said. “If local was important, that was probably a missed opportunity for ethnic minorities.”

And frankly, it irks Leeper that the DNC chose H.R. Russell ofAtlanta, which boasts around $300 million in annual revenues.

“It certainly doesn’t meet the local test,” he says. “… They don’t contribute to the community. They have no office in

Charlotte. And they see no need to set up an office here because they’ll get the minority piece because they are the big dog in the fight.”

The irony isn’t missed on Leeper – and he’s figures he’s hardly alone.

“This isn’t just about me,” he says. “The fact that we have a black mayor and five African Americans on city council – does that really make a difference in my life? Why should I care? I mean, at the end of the day, how are blacks and other minorities benefiting from it?”

Post Script: Ron Leeper contacted me to take issue with the tone of my column. He said that my depiction of his loss to construction companies Rodgers, Hunt and Russell inaccurately portrayed him as harboring “sour grapes.” He also credited the DNC for awarding part of the work to black-owned contractor, Herman J. Russell of Atlanta.


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A Taste of Bernardin’s Restaurant

By: WFAE’s Jay Ahuja

Evidently, Freddy Lee has taken the Winston-Salem restaurant scene by storm and now has his eyes on the Queen City.  Bernardin’s recently opened in the Ratcliffe Flowers building on The Green and hosted a soiree on Thursday, November 3rd.  As grand openings go, it was a laid back affair, but certainly unusual in that none of the food served was actually on the menu.  Not yet anyway.

Freddy Lee spent the entire evening in the kitchen producing tray after tray of appetizers.  Highlights included oysters on the half shell that were prepared with tuna tartar and iced wasabi; tiny puff pastries piled high with brie, a clove of garlic and dried cranberry; and some sinfully good deviled-eggs that were whipped up with smoked salmon and capers on top.  There was also a nicely spiced, grilled chicken satay and Thai beef lettuce wraps.  The wraps, however, were messy and difficult to enjoy because there were no plates or flatware to be seen, so guests were handling them with nothing but cocktail napkins.

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Scott Stone picking Hhmself off the mat

Ron Stodghill

It would have been quite poetic, actually – a kind of small-town political reprise to those Ali-Frazier bouts of yesteryear. As the world eulogized “Smokin’” Joe Frazier last week, it was tempting for some to celebrate, romanticize even, the possibility of a political underdog like Scott Stone making history.

Yes, some dared to imagine Stone, the dreamy Republican mayoral contender, stepping into the ring against Foxx, Charlotte’s big money incumbent, and putting the native son – Pow! – flat on the mat.

So much for possibilities.

Scott Stone

When the contest was over, images of Ali-Frazier had been replaced – at least for me – by moments in the 2006 Rocky Balboa flick. Scott Stone, who lost with only 34 percent of the vote, told me: “While the mayor won convincingly, he also came out wounded.” 

Somehow, though, I heard Rocky’s soliloquy:  “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. …”

Or something like that.

Actually, Stone said he saw the knockout punch months before it landed. 

“We knew on June 30,” he said, referring to the day the candidates reported how much their campaign had raised. The figures were grim: Foxx’s $532,000 versus Stone’s $79,000.

“That was the end for us,” Stone said. “People just assumed that we couldn’t win and so it was that much harder to raise money.”

Stone tried to keep faith: He jabbed Foxx where he could, over Charlotte’s unemployment rate of around 10 percent  (“People know that the economy is bad here, and the mayor tried to spin it as if it’s doing better than it is.”), and buckling to organized labor to bring the DNC to Charlotte next year.

OK, so message – or rather a lack of a punchy one – may have been a problem for Stone. This, the paltry war chest, and the strong incumbent pretty much sealed Stone’s fate.

The loss also positions Foxx for what Stone believes has always been Foxx’s long-term play –to use the DNC convention to catapult onto a larger stage, a la Barack Obama. Who would have guessed one soaring speech by an unknown Illinois  state senator at the DNC’s 2004 convention would be a dress-rehearsal for our future president?

“I think he sees himself a lot like the president,” Stone told me, a couple weeks prior to the election.  “I think this mayor is looking for his moment at the DNC convention in his hometown to be in the national spotlight, and turn it into an election for governor. Whether Barack Obama wins or not doesn’t matter;  you’re (Foxx) an African American governor in a southern state, in a swing state that you have to have to win the presidency. That’s a credible person to run for president, right there.  Yes, it sounds crazy and far fetched, but so does a state senator fromIllinois being elected president four years later.

For now, Stone claims far more modest plans, like re-committing himself to North Carolina Heroes Fund. The fund raises money for military families who are suffering financial hardships. And for those wondering, his chin is still very much up.

“There’s no good that comes from moping around hanging my head,” he says.

“Do I regret that I gave Anthony Foxx a tough challenge? No, I was doing the thing that I needed to do. Shouldn’t we give strong opposition, and challenge his ideas with better ideas?”

Of course, I only heard Rocky Balboa describing something that sounded like courage.

“It’s your right to listen to your gut. It ain’t nobody’s right to say no after you earned the right to be what you wanna be and do what you wanna do.”

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Some Like it Hot

Would you put hot sauce on your corn flakes?  Marshall Terry’s story on the world’s hottest pepper got us craving something spicy, and this happens to be one my favorite recipes.  It truly highlights the deliciousness of hot sauce (you can use any kind you want, but I’ve always gone with the recommended Crystal brand), and it always satisfies my craving for something super spicy (and tasty).  What’s your favorite recipe using hot sauce?

Also, don’t miss Marshall’s reaction to actually EATING one of the hottest peppers in the world… (Warning: Don’t try this at home!)

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Catching up with Lynn Wheeler

Ron Stodghill

IPhone in one hand, ink pen in the other, Lynn Wheeler took nary a bite of her roasted turkey sandwich on Monday afternoon.  Sitting at a Dilworth lunch haunt, the former Charlotte city councilwoman and mayor pro tem was too busy jotting bits of pre-election intelligence – if there is such a thing – buzzing at her from all across town.

“I live for this stuff,” said Wheeler, a Republican, as she scribbled furiously into her notebook.

On Wheeler’s calendar, Election Day usually glows neon. This one, by her own admission, is barely worthy of a yellow highlighter.

“The truth is that nobody is stirred up,” she said. “There’s no reason for voters to go to the polls.”

That’s not good for Wheeler, who finds valuable currency within the fissures of Charlotte’s political divide. Sure, there’s ample community griping about the quality of Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools, fierce debate over the necessity of streetcars and high-speed rail, and always some good grumbling over Charlotte’s high unemployment rate.

But none of these issues, Wheeler says, is enough to energize Charlotte’s electorate – let alone spur them to the polls.

“I’d be dumbfounded if there is strong turnout,” she said, pushing around her fruit salad.

Wheeler should know what gets Charlotte voters’ juices up. She’ll forever be known as the city councilwoman who went rogue on the citizenry in 2001 to lead a successful effort to build an uptown arena, despite a voter referendum against it.  With the DNC convening at Time Warner Arena next year, Wheeler is feeling vindicated about the effort – even though it cost her seat of 14 years.

These days, she’s busy running a small PR and lobbying firm and has recast herself as queen of Charlotte’s chattering class. Wherever there’s a listening ear, from her own private dinner parties to local media appearances, there’s the bubbly Wheeler downloading a bounty of hard insider facts and eye-rolling gossip.

 In January, she plans to launch her own blog, “Lynn’s Word on the Street: Charlotte’s Latest Business and Political Scuttlebutt.” It’s a kind of aggregator of the various conversations and events to which she’s privy.

“I’ve heard from a lot of powerful people who say they’ll source me,” she said.

To be sure, Wheeler is still very much plugged in to Charlotte’s political machine – she counts among her “best friends” city manager Kurt Walton and Chamber czar Bob Morgan – and makes access to city powerbrokers her stock –in-trade.

“It’s kind of interesting that I’m in the middle of everything, but I’m a nobody,” she quipped, feigning modesty.

Growing on her list of affections: Mayor Anthony Foxx. His campaign recently hit her up for $500. Foxx, she said, likes to tease his Republican moderate pal to “be what you really are” and change party affiliations to Democrat.

What about her own party’s mayoral contender, Scott Stone?  Wheeler shakes her head desperately. “Scott Stone should not have run for mayor,” she said. “He should have run at-large. He would have been incredible.”

“I know Anthony personally and I really like him,” she says. “He’s done a really good job and so there’s no reason to throw him out.”

Rolling her eyes, she added: “But he really thinks he can beat Anthony (Foxx), and that’s ridiculous.”

She continued: “So I was on a conference call this morning with Mayor Foxx….”  During the brief Monday morning call with Foxx’s strongest supporters, one supporter asked Foxx what could possibly go wrong for him on Election Day.

Foxx’s response: bad weather, strong Republican turnout and Scott’s campaign issue of the DNC using union workers for convention having more traction than anyone imagined.

As she told Foxx:  “That’s just not a resonating issue for people at the polls.

Here’s what will matter most on Election Day, she said: that Foxx, according to Monday’s briefing, boasts $810,000 in the war chest, and that his campaign in recent days made 6,235 phone calls and connected with 3,175. The effort resulted in  1,125 donors.

“That’s a lot of money raised for getting out the vote,” she said. “How can Scott Stone compete with that?”

With that question, Wheeler took a small bite of her turkey sandwich, stood up and headed off to her next meeting.

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What’s Up With Chili In The South?

By: WFAE’s Scott Graf

Earlier this Fall, I was part of a group that attended a chili cook-off in the Lake Norman area.  Good food, outside, with all the proceeds going to charity – what a great way to spend part of a Saturday afternoon, right?

Dozens of teams had set up tables and provided ‘tasters’ with small samples in plastic cups.  Each attendee was given one vote, and organizers asked that they vote for their favorite chili.

Soon after I began tasting the different samples, I noticed a trend: the chili seemed sweet and not very spicy.  The more I tasted, the more I noticed it.  The chili even reminded me a little of some Brunswick stews I’ve eaten.  The rest of my group said the same thing: the chili was a little too sweet for our tastes.

A week after that event, I was having a conversation with someone about (what else?) chili.  I mentioned that I’d just been to a cookoff and noticed something I considered unusual about the local way of making chili.  Before I could say anything else, he asked “It’s really sweet, isn’t it?”

His response told me perhaps what I was noticing was a geographical difference.  This person is a Pennsylania native.  Those of us who attended the chili cook-off are all Midwest natives.

So, is there a ‘Southern’ way of making chili that’s different than chili made in other parts of the country?

Have you noticed the same thing I did?  Did you like it?  Have you changed the way you made chili after moving to the South?

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