Convention Contention: ’88
While Denver’s bid to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention is being hampered by labor union issues, contenders in past years have faced other hurdles such as a shortage of hotel rooms, not enough convention space and disadvantages in the political climate. Sometimes these cities have snagged the bid, other times they’ve lost out. This is the first in a series looking back at past battles to hold the national conventions.
Both parties were determined to hold their conventions in the South back in 1988, and New Orleans was an early favorite in each camp. Democratic and Republican selection committees were wowed by the huge, spanking-new Superdome. After considering Atlanta and Kansas City, the GOP picked New Orleans first with the caveat that the Big Easy wouldn’t also host the Democrats. Disappointed and struggling with naming a second choice, Democrats homed in on Houston and Atlanta.
Unlike this year, when New York sits idly by while Denver Dems pull out all the stops, Houston and Atlanta both aggressively tried to woo the Democrats. The cities flew loads of down-home delicacies to the selection committee in Washington (jumbo shrimp from Atlanta, barbecue from Houston). As officials and residents in both cities danced for the DNC, the head of Houston’s host committee griped about chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr.:
“It’s been very confusing. I feel like we’ve been going together for 18 months. That’s long enough to have two babies. I just wish one time he’d say, ‘I like you.’ “
Houston quickly jumped ahead as the frontrunner. The economy was suffering and needed the boost, and the city was building a state-of-the-art convention center. But, there were concerns that all of the new building’s kinks wouldn’t be worked out in time.
Atlanta’s bid was suffering from a too-small convention center, which was widely suspected to be a deal breaker. City officials proposed renovating the center to include more seats and skyboxes.
In a surprising turn, the DNC ultimately chose Atlanta. The decision was made on the basis that Georgia had just elected a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators, while Houston and Texas were turning increasingly red. Holding the convention in Atlanta, Kirk said, “would send a message to the nation.”
The message for Denver: Keep your hopes up. The DNC has chosen political advantage in the face of logistical problems before.
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