At breakfast, DNC team hears party bigwigs make Philly's case

Mayor Nutter (from right) talks with Joseph Sandler, former DNC general counsel, and Tom McMahon, former DNC executive director, at the Constitution Center.
Mayor Nutter (from right) talks with Joseph Sandler, former DNC general counsel, and Tom McMahon, former DNC executive director, at the Constitution Center. (TOM GRALISH / Staff)
Posted: August 16, 2014

We can raise the bucks.

That was the message Thursday from the region's political and business leaders as the Democratic National Committee's Technical Advisory Group wrapped up its two-day tour of Philadelphia.

Local officials had pulled out all the stops for the 17-member group - from Mummers and cheesesteaks to swanky rooftop cocktail parties and a chance to (gently) tap the Liberty Bell. But perhaps the most important stop was a conference room on the 45th floor of the Comcast Center tower, where top local Democrats made their pitch for why the party's 2016 grand fete should be held in Philadelphia.

It's fun, it has history, and it has the money, the locals said.

The presentation over breakfast was closed to the press, but those who attended said it was all about hyping up the Philadelphia region - and its ability to raise the private funds needed to underwrite a political convention. Speakers included U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, former Gov. Ed Rendell, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, and Comcast executive David L. Cohen.

"We tried to make our case," City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said. "We did want to emphasize our ability to raise money, because apparently that is a very significant part of the selection committee's determination as to whom they select."

Clarke said the specifics to how the fund-raising will be done will be decided later on.

Philadelphia is one of five cities left in the running to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention, along with Brooklyn, N.Y.; Phoenix; Birmingham, Ala.; and Columbus, Ohio. (The Republicans have selected Cleveland for their convention.)

Fund-raising will be one of the major responsibilities of Philadelphia's host committee, which is chaired by Daniel Hilferty, chief executive of Independence Blue Cross. The insurer is promising to kick in money - Hilferty declined to say how much. He is also involved with fund-raising for the Catholic Church's 2015 World Meeting of Families and the hoped-for visit from Pope Francis. In a news conference, Hilferty said the local business community can handle both.

The host committee, which is a subcommittee of the nonprofit created to woo the DNC, has more than 40 members. And the list will grow, said Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for the nonprofit, which has been dubbed Philadelphia 2016.

He said all the host committee members had "expressed willingness to support the bid financially."

Rendell, who is heading the nonprofit, said he expects companies and individuals here and statewide will put up 75 percent to 85 percent of the $60 million to $82 million the host committee aims to raise for the convention.

Because of the party's strong labor ties, unions will kick in $5 million to fund the convention, Rendell said after the breakfast. Labor did not contribute any cash to underwrite the Republican convention held here in 2000, he said.

The city will incur costs for "logistical support," Clarke said; he could not estimate how much. He noted that, because the convention is a political event, dollars from the city's general fund cannot be set aside to help pay for it.

Casey, one of the politicians who cheered on Philadelphia while guests sipped coffee and munched on eggs, bacon, and French toast, said he told the group that momentum was already building across the state.

"This is as much about the commonwealth as it is the region," Casey said.

He touted the state's political donors. Since the mid-1980s, Casey said, Pennsylvania Democrats have "always overperformed on money," whether for presidential campaigns or governors' races.

Most of Thursday, the second day of the DNC team's visit, was spent in meetings at the Comcast Center and later at the National Constitution Center.

"We've had a great visit," DNC spokeswoman Lily Adams said as the group filed onto its bus. She called the second day a "deep dive" into topics important to the decision: transportation, logistics, security, financing.

"This is a team of experts," Adams said, "and they're going to go back and make their report."

Earlier, the visitors were greeted by a cheering, sign-waving crowd of several hundred in the Constitution Center lobby after a working lunch in a second-floor meeting room. They received red-white-and-blue Termini Bros. cupcakes, acknowledged the crowd, then trooped upstairs for more meetings.

Their visit ended atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art - with a champagne toast and conversation and canap├ęs behind a red rope, as tourists ran the steps and struck their Rocky poses.

The DNCers recounted tales of the trip, such as how they were allowed to tap the Liberty Bell (while wearing white gloves) during a Wednesday after-hours tour with Nutter.

As the charter bus ferried the visitors back to Washington - they go next to Phoenix - the mayor said he believed the two days showed his city at its best.

"They know we have the fund-raising capability, the logistical capacity, and certainly the knowledge of security needs," Nutter said. "I think they know this is a great city that will put on a great convention."


DNC CHECKLIST

What they like: Suits on the host committee. That's the group that would stage the convention here.

Why: Powerful business and political leaders reassure the party leadership that enough money can be raised to finance the event.

What they like: An effective shuttle system to move delegates from hotels to the convention arena.

Why: Slow, inefficient shuttle system at Democrats' conventions in Charlotte and Los Angeles annoyed attendees. Could be a problem in Brooklyn.

What they like: 17,000 hotel rooms, centrally located.

Why: Easy movement and access to amenities makes the convention fun. Philadelphia has 11,400 rooms in Center City and University City.

What they like: Mega-parking in the Wells Fargo and sports arena area.

Why: Lots of room for operations, party and media tents, VIP parking, and bus staging, within a big perimeter that can be secured.

What they like: Union employees at the convention arena, convention center, and some hotels.

Why: Organized labor is a big ally for Democrats.


- Jane M. Von Bergen
cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520

@InqCVargas

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