In Philadelphia, they greeted Democratic National Committee members with cheesesteaks and a “Rocky” impersonator.
Those who have helped determine which cities get to host party nominating conventions say the most important factors include having enough hotel rooms, a sufficient convention center, viable transportation options, and the ability to raise enough money. Political factors, like whether the city is located in a swing state, inevitably come into play.
But it doesn’t hurt to wow the site-selection committee members when they come to town for a visit, either. In order to host the most elaborate show in politics, cities first try to prove that they can put one on.
“Cities that win have been cities that really put a lot of emphasis in demonstration that they can put on a show, because while it is not the issue or the most important issue, it is a issue in this laundry list of things you have to be concerned about,” said former DNC Chairman Joe Andrew, who was involved in the site-selection process for three conventions.
Party conventions are highly sought-after by city officials””and for good reason. Every four years, they attract tens of thousands of people, bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and put the host city squarely in the center of the national spotlight. Dozens of cities across the country have the resources to host a party convention, so those in the running need to find unique ways to distinguish themselves and impress the site-selection committee when it swings through.
When the RNC made its June visit to Cleveland, which ultimately won the right to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, city officials gave them a tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even introduced them to the Cleveland Browns’ star rookie quarterback, Johnny Manziel.
But other cities that wooed the RNC didn’t fail for of a lack of trying. In Kansas City, there was the fireworks show and a visit to the Sprint Center that included video of a Ronald Reagan speech and a performance of “God Bless the U.S.A.” from a local 12-year-old. City officials also considered offering the RNC delegation tablet computers and signed baseballs from Kansas City Royals legend George Brett, among many other things, according to emails obtained by the Kansas City Star.
Democrats are still deciding where to host their convention in two years, though they have narrowed their list to five finalists. Philadelphia appears to be a slight front-runner, but Brooklyn; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; and Birmingham, Ala., are also in the mix.
New York politicians tried to emphasize the trendy borough’s “cool” image when the Democrats’ site-selection committee came into town earlier this month, dropping names of local celebrities past and present before visiting New York City staples like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rockefeller Center. Committee members were given gift bags with Louis Armstrong CDs and stuffed animals from the Bronx Zoo.
“We have swag on lockdown,” New York City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo said during the DNC’s site visit.
From Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman’s perspective, his city needed to pull out all the stops””including a blue-carpet welcome, mass choir performance, and fireworks show””to properly introduce the DNC officials to the largest city in Ohio, which has never hosted a major party convention before.
“Everybody in Columbus wants this in our city,” said Coleman, a Democrat. “This is more than a business proposition to us. And they felt an embrace that’s going to be difficult to emulate from an entire community, not just from a segment of the community.”
Creating a spectacle for committee members is by no means a new strategy for convention-seeking cities. Former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour recalled that when the site-selection committee visited New York City when it was vying to host the 1996 GOP convention, TV star Regis Philbin hosted a lunch for them and Mayor Rudy Giuliani invited them to Gracie Mansion for dinner.
Current Mayor Bill de Blasio and Giuliani don’t have too much in common””but de Blasio adopted the same tactic this year.
“New York put the big pot in the little one,” Barbour said, even though the city was ultimately eliminated from contention.
One moment from Andrew’s DNC tenure that stuck out was his trip to the convention center in Los Angeles in 2000. During the tour, 40 “angels” suddenly descended from the ceiling wearing “modern, contemporary, sometimes wild costumes.”
“Those kinds of things, obviously, are memorable,” Andrew said. “They had nothing to do with whether the city had the ability to raise the money, whether the city had the hotel rooms, whether the city had the right convention center, which are all the big decisions. But they do give you some sense about whether the story will be told.”
As for the 2016 Democratic convention, the committee isn’t expected to make a final decision about the location until late 2014 or early next year.
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