Democrats to convene in Philly in 2016

"This is a very serious matter," Mayor Nutter said after the Democratic National Committee announced its decision. "The world watches what happens in American politics."
"This is a very serious matter," Mayor Nutter said after the Democratic National Committee announced its decision. "The world watches what happens in American politics." (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 14, 2015

It's official: The Democrats are coming to town.

The Democratic National Committee's announcement Thursday that Philadelphia will host the party's 2016 presidential nominating convention - beating out Brooklyn, N.Y., and Columbus, Ohio - caps a yearlong campaign during which the city's marquee political names set aside their differences and pulled together as a team.

The decision means Philadelphia will double down on national, even global, attention in the next 18 months, with Pope Francis visiting in September and the Democrats convening here in July 2016.

It also means the nation's first African American president will get to deliver his political swan song in a city whose voters overwhelmingly supported his historic election and reelection.

"This was a rigorous, grueling, and appropriate process for the kind of decision the DNC had to make," Mayor Nutter said after the morning announcement. "This is a very serious matter. The world watches what happens in American politics."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat and chairwoman of the DNC, said Philadelphia won for three key reasons: logistics, security, and resources.

"This was probably the most diligent process that we've been through in modern times to assure the best and most successful convention," she said.

Ed Rendell, the former governor who is leading the local effort, praised Rep. Bob Brady, longtime chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party, for never giving up on the convention bid.

"Truth be told, it was his idea," Rendell said. "He's an agitator."

And a patient one: The push for the 2016 convention started before the 2012 convention. Brady urged Nutter in 2010 to apply to host the 2012 convention.

Nutter, concerned about the city's finances at the time, ruled that out, but agreed to try for 2016.

Rendell said Philadelphia 2016 - the nonprofit organization set up to coordinate the city's efforts - expects the convention to cost $84 million. Nearly $5 million has been raised, and the group has an additional $12 million in pledges, he said.

David L. Cohen, executive vice president at Comcast and a nationally known campaign fund-raiser with close ties to Obama, will serve as senior adviser to Philadelphia 2016.

Cohen knows the territory: He led the local group that raised the millions and hosted the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

"We're confident we can raise" the $84 million, Rendell said. "In fact, we're going to try to get a little cushion in case there are contingencies."

Nutter will leave office in early January but will remain involved in the convention effort as cochairman of Philadelphia 2016.

Rendell is invested personally and professionally in this convention.

He pledged $25,000 of his own money in November to help pay for it. And he is close with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the undisputed early front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Sen. Bob Casey, a Scranton Democrat, predicted that a Philadelphia convention could strengthen Clinton's chances.

"If she's the nominee, and I think she will be, she's going to be very strong in that region and throughout the state regardless, but this can only help," Casey said. "And I think it will help all the way down the ballot."

The intertwining of Philadelphia's political history with Obama's was not lost on national observers. David Plouffe, a longtime adviser to the president, recalled a pivotal 2008 speech then-candidate Obama delivered here at the National Constitution Center, on race relations.

"8+ years after his 'race speech' in Philly, @Barack Obama will return to the City of Brotherly Love to pass the baton," Plouffe tweeted Thursday. "What a journey."

It will be the 10th major-party convention the city has hosted, dating back to the Whigs' gathering in 1848. Philadelphia last hosted a Democratic convention in 1948.

This time, city leaders aggressively wooed the DNC selection committee for months, touting the city's vibrancy, history, landmarks, food, transit, and hotel capacity.

The convention will come 10 months after the pope visits Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, another high-profile event that will require extensive planning and security.

Both events are expected to have a significant financial impact locally.

Philadelphia 2016 says the 2000 convention had a combined direct and indirect impact of $345 million on the region's economy.

Brady, the city's chief cheerleader in the bid for the 2016 gathering, said he expects the convention will create $250 million to $300 million in economic activity in Philadelphia.

The plan calls for the Democrats to gather during the week of July 25 at the Wells Fargo Center. Its location - isolated and easier to secure, unlike the venues in Brooklyn and Columbus - figured in the DNC's decision.

Innkeepers were already primping and prepping.

"I'm sure the city will be sold out," said a thrilled Dan McGowan, who, as owner/manager of the 16-room Philadelphia Bella Vista Bed & Breakfast on South 10th Street, plans to readjust terms during the period of the convention for minimum-night stays. "They couldn't find a better place to hold a convention with all the history here."

"Having a great day," said Bob Dmuchowski, director of sales and marketing at the 268-room Hotel Monaco, which opened near Independence Mall in October 2012 and hosted the DNC selection committee when it was in town. "We've all been kind of anxiously awaiting the decision. We committed a significant amount of our inventory to help bring the convention in."

How did the city win the convention? "Hugs work," Brady joked.

"I hugged her every single day," the hulking congressman said of DNC chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, who is roughly half his size. "Except for one day, she wasn't there, and I hugged her chief of staff, and he's a guy. I gave him a bear hug."

Josh Shapiro, a Democrat and chairman of the Montgomery County Commission, said the whole region came together to land the winning bid.

"We showcased our infrastructure, fund-raising abilities and commitment to the Democratic Party," Shapiro said. "Whether it was Bob Brady's hugs, Ed Rendell's calls, there was a total team effort."

Rendell and Tom Ridge, a former Republican governor and the nation's first secretary of homeland security, wrote an Inquirer op-ed in late January to advocate for Philadelphia to host the event.,

The DNC decision drew praise from Sen. Pat Toomey. The Lehigh Valley Republican tweeted: "Great news. Philly will be a terrific host."

Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, welcomed the decision and said, "We look forward to working with local leaders to ensure that Philadelphia will shine in the national spotlight."

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said he and his department have a leg up on planning: Many of the same people who handled security logistics for the GOP's 2000 convention remain in place now.

And, Ramsey said, his eight years of experience as police chief in Washington helps with transporting dignitaries.

There are no specific security challenges, he said, to hosting two major events in a 10-month span - even when the guests of honor include a president and a pope.

"They're different, but crowds are crowds," Ramsey said. "You learn every time you handle a large event, whether it's the pope or the DNC. You get better at handling it. And we're pretty damn good at handling these things."

Ramsey said he was unsure how big a role the Wells Fargo Center's location may have played in Philadelphia's landing the convention.

"I would like to think," Ramsey said, "we were just the best city to host it."


brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973

@byChrisBrennan

Inquirer staff writers Jonathan Tamari, Claudia Vargas, and Matt Gelb contributed to this article.

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