KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Both Republicans and Democrats who live here are rooting for our chances of hosting the 2016 GOP Convention.
“This is a big deal for our city,” Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Sly James told a press conference Thursday. “Other than perhaps the Olympics, I can’t think of anything that…would have a greater impact or put us on a larger stage.”
James has been an enthusiastic host since the 13-member Republican National Convention site selection committee arrived Wednesday at Kansas City’s downtown airport, even doing an impromptu dance on the tarmac with committee chair Enid Mickelsen, a former congresswoman from Utah, while a Kansas City, Kan. high school band played for the group.
(Let’s clear up some confusion right away. There are two cities named Kansas City. The largest is in Missouri, the smaller in Kansas. The metro area includes at least a dozen suburbs as well, all with different personalities.)
Also on hand were former TWA (used to be our city’s airline) flight attendants in vintage uniforms, perhaps to remind the committee of 1976, the last time the Republican convention was held in Kansas City. The 40th anniversary in 2016 gives “a certain symmetry” to the idea of Kansas City hosting again, Mickelsen said during the press conference.
Additional support for the bid came from an unexpected source Wednesday night when Dick Cheney and his wife made a surprise visit to the Republican delegation in Kansas City to argue for a June convention instead of July. Cheney was former president Gerald Ford’s chief of staff in 1976, the last time the Republican convention was in Kansas City.
Having the convention start June 27 instead of July 18 would almost guarantee we’d host the GOP over our competitors; Cleveland, Dallas and Denver all have NBA or NHL teams and can’t promise to have their convention space available for the six to eight weeks needed for preparation.
That advantage is “a nice nugget that Kansas City has in its back pocket,” said Republican party chairman Reince Priebus.
This may be the only time she’s been glad the Sprint Center does not have a professional team as an anchor, Brenda Tinnen, the arena’s general manager and senior vice president, told me Thursday. Tinnen is the only woman on the Kansas City Republican Convention 2016 Task Force.
The Kansas City native, who said she took “an 18-year road trip” working in other cities, oversaw the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles when the 2000 Democratic Convention was held there. “I know nothing is a surprise,” she said of the experience. “It’s not your normal rock show.”
She said she tried “to put a little wow and fun” into the Republican committee’s site visit to the Sprint Center and “hopefully make KC stand out.” For starters, the delegation’s bus drove down the loading dock through the aptly nicknamed “elephant door” right onto the floor of the convention center.
The interior had been decorated with state placards for a preview of what it might look like in 2016. Lucy’s Kids for Peace, a group of young children, led the delegation in the Pledge of Allegiance and later 10,000 balloons dropped as 12-year-old Olivia Sabates sang “God Bless the USA.”
It was “kind of dramatic,” Tinnen said. (Members of the media were not allowed to watch the site visit, but Mayor James shared a video on Instagram.)
The site committee visited Cleveland earlier this week and will check out Denver and Dallas next week. Eight cities originally made presentations in March; so far, Kansas City has survived each cut to make it into the “final four.”
“Let me just tell you what this comes down to though, for me,” Priebus explained. “It comes down to, number one, the hotels, the arena, and the ability to raise the money, and then beyond that, obviously the delegate experience, which is obviously the city, the feeling and all those other intangibles.”
Troy Stremming, co-chair of the Kansas City task force, said nearly $30 million in cash and in-kind contributions, about half of what will be needed, has been raised so far.
But what about the political considerations? Is there an advantage in November when it comes to the location of the convention? Business trumps politics, Priebus said, pointing out that in the 2012 election, President Obama lost North Carolina, despite Democrats having held their convention in Charlotte, and that Mitt Romney failed to win Florida, even though Tampa hosted the GOP gathering. “I don’t buy into any of that stuff that people say — ‘If you have it here, you’re more likely to win.’ History will tell you, if you have it somewhere you’re more likely to lose actually.”
Then there are “the intangibles” or what Mickelsen called the “subjective” part of the decision-making process.
She called Kansas City “a beautiful city,” but she also described Cleveland as “an unknown gem.” She did praise the “tremendous” enthusiasm she found here. “We want to go some place that wants to have us.”
Priebus, who once worked in Kansas City, admitted, “I just really love this place. You’ve got a unique situation where you’ve got two great states in Kansas and Missouri coming together and doing everything they can to make it happen.”
I want Kansas City to win this honor. Of course it would provide a great economic boost. But there’s also a boost to the city’s image. I want to share the city I love with the rest of the country — for people to realize that here in the heartland, in the middle of flyover territory, there’s a place with unexpected treasures, from one of the public libraries in a renovated bank building (movies are shown in the vault and the side of the parking garage looks like a giant bookshelf) to museums featuring World War I, the Negro Baseball Leagues and jazz. And so much more.
Where restaurants feature foods from Ethiopian to Thai. And barbecue, of course. Lots and lots of Kansas City barbecue.
Besides, our convention center has the elephant door.