Philly woos Democrats with doughnuts, cheesesteaks and Rocky

Mayor Nutter and DNC CEO Amy Dacey (right) chat with a shopper in Reading Terminal Market during the delegation's tour of Philadelphia.
Mayor Nutter and DNC CEO Amy Dacey (right) chat with a shopper in Reading Terminal Market during the delegation's tour of Philadelphia. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 15, 2014

In Philadelphia, any time is the right time for a cheesesteak - which is why, at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, members of the committee deciding whether the city will host the 2016 Democratic National Convention found themselves at Pat's King of Steaks, eating wit or wit'out under the glare of television cameras.

It's a political ritual usually reserved for candidates, but in this case, Frank Olivieri, owner of Pat's, ponied up the sandwiches for the greater good.

"I think it's amazing for Philadelphia," said Olivieri, who believes the city will reap economic benefits if the Democrats choose it over rivals Birmingham, Ala.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix, Ariz.

But if the steaks (or the midmeal encounter with a Rocky impersonator) affected Philadelphia's chances, the 17 members of the party's site selection committee here for a two-day visit were too discreet to say so.

The visitors were "talking through some very important issues" with Philadelphia's host committee, Amy Dacey, chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee, told reporters. She would not elaborate - but noted that the team had not completed its evaluation.

Dacey didn't reveal much about the selection process, except to say the committee focuses on fund-raising abilities of each city and logistics of event space and security.

In fact, as the visitors wended their way through local landmarks, cheering crowds and strumming Mummers, the only items that seemed to steal their hearts - or their stomachs - were doughnuts from Beiler's Bakery at Reading Terminal Market.

Dacey's eyes rolled back as she tasted a salted-caramel one. Everyone in her group raved about the doughnuts; one visitor even asked for the vendor's name. He nodded as if making a mental note for next time.

But will there be a next time? Philadelphia last hosted a national political convention in 2000, when the Republicans nominated George W. Bush.

The team of DNC officials, with expertise in transportation, security, and other logistics, arrived Wednesday morning by charter bus from a Brooklyn-centric two-day extravaganza with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Brooklyn is seen as Philadelphia's toughest competitor.) A motorcade of Philadelphia and state police led the bus across the Ben Franklin Bridge.

"We told them, we're bringing you in Philly style,'" Mayor Nutter said once the group arrived. "We do things well and we do things big."

Mummers strummed as the bus pulled up at the Radisson Blu Warwick hotel, where a jubilant crowd waited. Local and state elected officials, including the city Democratic chairman, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, were on hand to greet the visitors.

Noting the crowd, Nutter said, "The enthusiasm in Philadelphia about the possibility of hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2016 is pretty evident."

Once the delegation had settled in, it was time to go south - to Pat's.

Mid-gulp, the team was startled by the sound of the Rocky theme.

Lo and behold, impersonator Mike Kunda, clad in the fictional fighter's trademark gray sweats and red headband, came running north on Ninth Street, trailed by several dozen kids from the nearby Capitolo Playground summer camp.

Across the street, Pat's competitor, Geno's, was doing business as usual. That meant the shop's famously controversial sign - "This is America . . . When ordering please speak English" - was hanging by the window.

Asked about Pat's being shown off to the visitors, Geno's manager Jimmy Reds quipped that he hopes the party's nominee in 2016 isn't "as bad as the food they chose."

Even so, Reds, like most of the business owners interviewed along the tour, said hosting the Democrats would be "great" for the city.

With their bellies full, the DNC team and its hosts headed farther south to check out the Wells Fargo Center, where city officials hope to stage the convention. The entourage stopped in at Xfinity Live, the food-drink-entertainment emporium in the stadium complex.

There, they were treated to crab fries and desserts. No beer.

But as if taking in the spirit of Xfinity's usual madness, Dacey lifted her right hand and nearly volunteered to ride the mechanical bull (no donkey was available) - then declined on the grounds of wearing a skirt.

She and her committee looked at Xfinity Live's various rooms and video streaming capacity. Later, they toured the Convention Center before heading to Reading Terminal Market.

They threaded their way through the market's late-afternoon crowds, passing photos of President Obama stopping at stands during past visits there.

"The nation's top Democrat was here," said Paul Steinke, the market's general manager, so why not take them where Obama had munched?

Indeed - as if they hadn't eaten enough, the visitors noshed on apple fritters from Beiler's, Bassett's ice cream, cookies from the Famous 4th Street Cookie Co., turkey diablo and Italian hoagies from Carmen's Famous Steaks and Hoagies, local cheese from the Fair Food Farmstand, and dumplings from Golden Bowl.

On their way out, committee members could pick up a souvenir, presented in a plastic bag tied with red, white, and blue ribbons: a chocolate donkey.

One topic of discussion was money. "The deal is, there will be no city dollars spent to host the Democratic National Convention should it come here," Nutter said. "It's why we have the nonprofit . . . We have significant fund-raising capacity."

Nutter was referring to the nonprofit that has been created to underwrite both the convention and the effort to win the selection process.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, who is chairing the nonprofit, said he believed $41 million in cash and $19 million in in-kind contributions could be raised. An additional $50 million would come from federal government to be used for post-9/11 security.

From here, the committee heads to Phoenix, then back to Washington. A decision is expected later this year or early next.

But first there was dinner Wednesday night at Buddakan and a scheduled candlelight tour of Independence Hall before Thursday's itinerary: breakfast at the Comcast Center, some history at the National Constitution Center, and some culture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, steps away from the Rocky statue.


DNC Visitors: A Who's Who

Some members of the Democratic National Committee entourage in town kicking Philadelphia's tires on Wednesday and Thursday:

Amy Dacey - Chief executive of the DNC. Former executive director of Emily's List, the fund that backs female candidates who support abortion rights. Aide to the party's national House and Senate campaign committees. Special assistant to John Kerry in 2004, when he was the party's presidential nominee.

Leah Daughtry - Ran the party's 2008 convention in Denver. Pastor of the House of the Lord Church in Washington; event consultant.

Stephen Bittel - Major Democratic fund-raiser from South Florida. Member of DNC and vice chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Theo LeCompte - Deputy chief of staff to U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Chief operating officer of the 2012 DNC convention in Charlotte, N.C.; events manager for President Obama's 2013 inaugural. Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering.

Erik Smith - partner, Blue Engine Media. Senior adviser for advertising in both Obama races. Producer at the party's last two conventions.

Greg Hinton - Former U.S. Cellular human resources executive, hired as the DNC's first-ever diversity officer in 2011.

Ricky Kirshner - founder of RK productions. Credits include the Tony Awards and Super Bowl halftime shows. In charge of staging the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Zoe Garmendia - Director of DNC site selection. Was a senior adviser on 2008 selection, ran the credentials operation in 2012. Other roles at 1996, 2000, and 2004 Democratic conventions.

- Thomas Fitzgerald


cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520

@InqCVargas

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