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 fourth in a series looking back at past battles to hold the national conventions.The choosing of a convention host city used to be done behind closed doors. It was far from the public tug-of-war we see today. But, as time went by, city leaders began getting savvy about the huge boost a national party convention could bring to a city’s image and economy. The number of contenders grew, and the decision became more complex. There was enough complexity in the millennium year to make Convention Contention: 2000 a two-parter.
The playing field was dense with competitors for the 2000 Republican National Convention, and the site selection committee visited eight cities in the summer of 1998. All eight – Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Antonio, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Minneapolis – treated committee members to the finest food, drink and entertainment they had to offer. New York and Chicago were considered early frontrunners, but when the list was pared to five in August, Chicago didn’t make the cut.
New York’s bid for the 1996 GOP convention had been quashed when Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mario Cuomo, but Big Apple officials thought the RNC would look past the incident four years later. The city had never hosted a Republican convention before, but with Republicans Giuliani and Governor Pataki in office, many thought New York had a good chance at snagging the 2000 convention.
New Orleans had hosted a successful GOP convention in 1988 and desperately wanted a repeat. The convention had poured tens of millions of dollars into the local economy, and city officials hoped the windfall would come again. New Orleans had the advantage of a good logistical plan: plenty of convention space, hotel rooms and entertainment. But, the GOP had held its last four conventions in the South, and it was widely thought the RNC wanted to make a regional change.
Philadelphia hadn’t hosted either party’s convention since 1948, and city leaders there promoted the idea of a millennium convention in the birthplace of America. However, the city of Brotherly Love had several obstacles in the way of its bid. The financial package it offered to the RNC was mediocre, and the city was having labor issues. In fact, when the site committee visited, members were greeted by the sight of 5,500 striking transit workers, some of whom picketed during the committee’s obligatory visit to the Liberty Bell.
Still, after Philadelphia’s business and political leaders ponied up enough money to raise the city’s bid to $50 million worth of cash, goods and services, the GOP gave the city the nod. The choice was announced fairly early, in Nov. 1998. Giuliani made his disappointment known and blamed politics. New York’s Republican Senator Alfonse D. Amato had lost his re-election bid just days earlier, while Pennsylvanians had elected Republican Governor Tom Ridge and Senator Arlen Specter. Others pointed to Pennsylvania’s status as a swing state with 23 electoral votes, and suggested a Republican presence there could give them an advantage in 2000.
Message for Denver: Once again, political advantage can go a long way. Dems’ recent success in Colorado could give Denver an edge. But, money still matters.