Dem Convention Must Juggle Competing Interests to Succeed

The promises made in behalf of the 2008 Democratic National Convention are mind-boggling: $160 million pumped into the metro Denver economy, a piece of that financial pie for just about anyone who wants it, the “greenest, most innovative” presidential nominating meeting in history, “software to map every venue by the hour,” free speech for protesters and a good time for everyone.

The first of 10 “community conversations” between the public and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Convention Committee Chief Executive Leah Daughtry was not exactly a love fest. But it definitely set the bar high for expectations.

It also established the high stakes for the mayor and the city.

In less than a year, 35,000 people, including 15,000 international journalists, will descend on Denver, Hickenlooper told a crowd of several hundred at the Walnut Factory Wednesday. What they will see, Hickenlooper promised, will be “a place that can be pro-business and pro-environment.”

He went on to name a bunch of other seemingly contradictory attributes that Denver would show the world for the first time.

“We’re going to showcase what we’ve done that works,” the mayor said.

There's the challenge. Everything can't work simultaneously.

Some things, such as the need for security and the right to protest, inevitably conflict. The mayor’s real genius will not be charming folks in public forums, as he did Wednesday. His real genius will be convincing everyone to sacrifice a little in the interest of making the whole thing work.

Hickenlooper hinted at that, but he didn’t emphasize it.

“This is a dance we do with the federal government,” he told a would-be protestor, who complained about the out-of-the-way barbed wire “cage” where dissenters were banished in Boston at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

“We need to get rid of the barbed wire,” Hickenlooper said. “We need an opportunity for people to be seen and be heard, but keep people safe.”

One serious incident of violence will ruin the city’s reputation and call into question the mayor’s leadership. Any screw-ups, however minor, will get reported by hordes of hungry reporters looking for fresh material. The best and the worst of what Denver does will be broadcast in something close to real time around the Earth.

What Hickenlooper, and to a lesser extent Daughtry, face is a juggling act. The mayor would like to hump his initiative to end homelessness to the national audience. You wonder how he’ll do that with beggars standing on street corners.

Randle Loeb, a formerly homeless man who now serves on a city panel addressing homelessness, seemed to concede that for the good of the city people might have to be moved off the streets. His question – which the mayor didn’t exactly address – was: “How far do we have to go?”

Then, there is the business community at which Wednesday’s initial “conversation” was aimed. Daughtry promoted an online vendor directory coming in the fall to the Democratic National Convention Host Committee website, www.denverconvention2008.com. “We want to ensure that all communities of the Democratic family have a chance to get a piece of the pie,” Daughtry said.

Local and state vendors must register themselves in the directory. But it will provide enough specifics, Daughtry said, for someone to say, “I want a florist owned by a veteran or I want a florist owned by a Latino woman.”

Daughtry is counting on out-of-town businesses that will help operate the convention to form partnerships with local businesses. She also promoted opportunities for people whose skill set did not directly relate to the nuts and bolts.

“Let me assure you, there will be a great demand for your product,” she joked with a local winemaker.

Delegates also will look for tourism opportunities for themselves and their families between daily breakfast meetings and the 4 p.m. start of convention business, Daughtry said.

Still, not everyone was convinced.

“Business really suffered during the NBA All-Star game,” a restaurateur told Daughtry and Hickenlooper.

There is no word yet on specifically why that won’t happen again. But the mayor and the CEO insist it’s coming.

“If we aren’t all talking about (the convention), getting friends and family involved, we’re leaving something on the table,” Hickenlooper said. “I hear too many people saying, ‘I’m going to be out of town. It’s going to be too crazy.’

“Baloney. This is going to be fun.”

Baloney and fun – now, there are two standards by which to measure the Democratic National Convention.

“Consider today the start of a dialog, not the end,” Daughtry said.

It has to be. So much is left to say.

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Jim Spencer

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