As much as I love my home town, New York City, and would love to see Brooklyn host the 2016 Democratic convention, I have to agree with my MSNBC colleague Chris Matthews. The party’s next presidential standard-bearer should accept the nomination in Philadelphia. “By gathering in iconic Philadelphia, Democrats could lay claim to not just the flag but what it stands for,” Matthews argued Sunday in The Post. “A week there, sparkling with American values, could produce the kind of inspiring national convention we’ve missed in recent years.”
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is basing its determination on three dispassionate and very technical considerations. Safety and security is one. Transportation and hotel rooms (or logistics) is another. The almighty dollar is the third: The host city will have to raise an estimated $65 million to put on one of the quadrennial exercises in American democracy. In addition to Brooklyn, the City of Brotherly Love is competing with Columbus, Ohio, to hold the July 2016 jamboree. Even without New York’s big political problems, neither it nor the other two cities is perfect.
New York has the money race won. With $20 million in pledges and $6.5 million on hand, there is no question the Big Apple will raise the rest of the cash. The 117-member convention host committee boasts some of the most politically and financially powerful people in the city. Former Pennsylvania governor and DNC chair Ed Rendell told the New York Times that Philadelphia had $14 million in pledges and $8.6 million in the bank. Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich’s JobsOhio program pledged $10 million to Columbus’s effort. The same amount was given to the successful bid by Cleveland to host the 2016 Republican convention.
The Big Apple might beat out the competition on safety and security, too. Because it hosted the 1976, 1980 and 1992 Democratic conventions in Manhattan and numerous annual events that gather global leaders, the city in general and the New York Police Department in particular can handle the security of a Brooklyn convention with its eyes closed. But there is a huge drawback not more openly discussed. The three previous conventions were held at Madison Square Garden, in midtown Manhattan, and it was easy for most New Yorkers to avoid the mayhem. The Barclays Center, the proposed convention site in Brooklyn, sits in the middle of a vital commercial and residential zone. The advancing ring of frozen zones would make life a living hell for the tens of thousands of people who live, work and make their livelihoods in the area. In an op-ed for the New York Times last week, Norman Oder highlighted some other issues, including the substantial ownership stake of Barclays by a Russian oligarch.
Philadelphia was the site of the Republican convention in 2000. Things were a lot different in those pre-Sept. 11 days. The security requirements to safeguard the delegates, a sitting president, a former president and the party’s nominee are a lot more onerous today. But the Wells Fargo Center is far enough from Center City that it won’t inconvenience too many residents and businesses.
Columbus has never hosted a convention.
One of the big complaints about the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., was the dearth of hotel rooms in the city. Many delegates and journalists covering the convention were bedding down in hotels in neighboring states. Far from ideal if you want to partake in the nightly post-session gatherings at area hotels, restaurants and bars. The Barclays Center has made the area around it a draw for post-event merriment, but it is safe to assume that many will slink back to the numerous hot spots in Manhattan. The hotels and thriving restaurant scene in Philadelphia would hum even louder. Columbus is offering up the dorms of Ohio State University for the convention.
Key to getting to those venues is public transportation. The Barclays Center is plopped next to one of New York City’s major subway, bus and train hubs. This is the upside of the living hell that would await the area if selected. The transportation network in Philadelphia could shuttle folks around relatively easily. “Columbus doesn’t have the public transportation to match the other finalists,” wrote Columbus Business First reporter Tom Knox last week.
The one thing Columbus has going for it is that it is in the swingingest of swing states. No one wins the presidency without Ohio, and this is especially so for Republicans, which is why the GOP is going to the Buckeye State. But that distinction isn’t enough. Because North Carolina was considered a swing state in 2012 after President Obama won it in 2008, Democrats sought to hold it firmly in their column by holding its convention there. They failed.
One of the big things New York City has going for it is based on an assumption. Assuming Hillary Rodham Clinton gets into the race and assuming she becomes the party’s nominee, the former secretary of state, who was a U.S. senator from New York, would accept the nomination in her home state. This would come 24 years after her husband Bill Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination in Madison Square Garden and went on to become the 42nd president of the United States.
That would be some pretty powerful stuff. Still, it doesn’t beat the American drama offered by Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell. Independence Hall. Betsy Ross’s house. “When Democratic delegates from all over the country arrive in July 2016,” Matthews wrote, “they could visit much of their country’s revolutionary history without leaving Market Street.” Matthews convincingly argued that the DNC could use the opening of the Declaration of Independence as the thematic backdrop for the four-day convention:
An African American could speak proudly of the election of Barack Obama and of the continued struggle against voter suppression.
A gay couple could talk about marriage equality and their right to the pursuit of happiness.
A female delegate could make the case for equal treatment — and pay — in the workplace.
The DNC will make its selection known in the coming weeks. But to my mind the choice is pretty clear. Democrats have an opportunity to remind the nation that love of country, the flag and the ideals we hold most dear are not the sole province of the Republican Party. If Democrats want to propel their nominee out of their convention armed with the best argument for a third term in the White House, they will do so from Philadelphia.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj