'Let's make history': Local Dems hone pitch for 2016 convention

Former Gov. Ed Rendell speaks to reporters with U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (left) and Mayor Nutter.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell speaks to reporters with U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (left) and Mayor Nutter. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 09, 2014

Standing in a beer garden across from the Liberty Bell, the city's leaders vowed Thursday to lure the Democratic National Convention to Philadelphia and announced their slogan: "Let's make history again."

Ed Rendell, the former mayor and governor, would not say whether that was a sly reference to the candidate he supports - Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, who could be the first woman to win a major party's nomination for president.

"You can work on figuring that out," he said with a smile.

Rendell, Mayor Nutter, U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.), and others spoke at a kickoff event to anticipate next week's arrival of 18 national party officials charged with picking the 2016 convention locale.

City officials will pull out all the stops Wednesday and Thursday when the Democratic National Committee's selection team comes to town. The City of Brotherly Love is one of five finalists.

The team of DNC officials, with expertise in transportation, security, and other logistics, will stay at the Radisson Blu Warwick in Center City, which recently underwent a $20 million face-lift. Though their itinerary wasn't announced, they will have a packed schedule that includes stops at the Wells Fargo Center, the hoped-for convention site, as well as at hotels and tourist destinations such as Pat's King of Steaks.

"They are going to see one of the most incredible cities," Nutter said, "and they are going to see sights you can't see anywhere else." He mentioned the bell and Independence Hall.

The DNC's site selection committee plans to make its decision late this year or in early 2015.

The nonprofit established to promote the event, Philadelphia 2016, plans to spend $900,000 between now and November in support of the city's bid. The committee, led by Rendell, has raised about $100,000, he said. If the city wins, then the big "ask" begins: Backers would need to raise upward of $50 million to cover costs of hosting the event.

Rendell and Nutter have dismissed concerns about whether the city can plan for both the Catholic Church's World Meeting of Families in 2015, which officials hope Pope Francis will attend, and the DNC the following year. On Thursday, Rendell said: "We're a major-league city. We can handle one event, two events, three events."

Along with Nutter, Rendell, and Brady, the city's longtime Democratic chairman, the crowd outside the recently opened Independence Beer Garden, where plans for the DNC visit were announced, included local Democrats such as City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, State Rep. Brian K. Sims, Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro, and at least one non-Democrat - John J. McNichol, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority.

For many, Thursday's event amounted to déjà vu - reminiscent of the city's efforts nearly two decades ago to land a political convention, any political convention, for 2000.

That effort started in 1996, when then-Mayor Rendell returned from the Democratic convention in Chicago determined to bring a convention here.

Selling it strictly as a business development enterprise, Rendell and others vowed to pursue both parties equally and hustled hard for two years, forming a committee in December 1996.

Both parties sent large entourages - part technical staff charged with the logistics of producing a major event, and part political people with hangers-on. The Democratic group was larger than the GOP committee.

By contrast, the 18-member group coming to Philadelphia next week will be relatively small, but again with a mix of political people and technical staff. Efforts to market the city to them began last year.

"We took the Republicans, we showed them a great time," Brady said Thursday, recalling the 2000 convention. "Now it's the Democratic time."

The DNC selection committee has already visited two of the finalist cities - Birmingham, Ala., late last month, and Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday. At the latter, the committee was treated to a rally of 1,000 people wearing T-shirts that read, "Get Your [picture of a donkey] to Columbus in 2016," and a tour of Ohio State University's football stadium, touted as a perfect spot for candidates' acceptance speeches.

The committee plans to tour Brooklyn, N.Y., on Monday and Tuesday before coming here. Its final scheduled stop is Phoenix, on Sept. 10 and 11.

Among Democratic politicos, Brooklyn is seen as Philadelphia's strongest rival.

Before the news conference, Rendell joked that he'd poll the crowd about New York City's new mayor - "Who's a better mayor, Mike Nutter or Bill DeBlasio?" He predicted Nutter would win.

Inside the beer garden, Rendell told customers grabbing beers and wings, "We will either get the convention, or Mayor Nutter will be thrown over the Ben Franklin Bridge."


BY THE NUMBERS

$900,000

Needed between now and November to support the city's bid.

$100,000

Raised by Philadelphia 2016 so far.

$50M

Estimated amount backers would need to raise to host the Democratic convention.


cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520215-854-5520  @InqCVargas

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