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The Democratic National Committee has narrowed its choice of possible 2016 convention cities to three: Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio; and New York. As someone who has lived in two of those cities and has frequently traveled through the third, I feel as though I am well-positioned to offer an analysis of these choices.
A few things to get out of the way. First, the choice of a convention site is largely dissociated from any effect on the election itself. In July (when the GOP was deciding to hold its 2016 nominating convention in Cleveland), we looked at how party success in the host state compared with previous elections. There was a slight increase for Democratic candidates in states that held conventions, and a slight decrease for Republicans.
But these are not large effects. What's more, two of the three states in the running for 2016 have consistently voted Democratic in recent elections. Below is how each of the three possible host states have voted compared with the national margin since 1916. Pennsylvania has been more Democratic than the rest of the country since the 1940s; New York, since the 1950s. Which means that even when the country on the whole voted heavily for Obama in 2008, Pennsylvania voted even more heavily for him.
So that's the data. Which no one cares about. People who care about the convention, which is people who plan to attend the convention, care about which place will be the most fun. And that is where my expertise comes into play.
My expertise: I went there once when I was a kid to tour the patriotism-related displays. Also it is on the Amtrak line to D.C. And its name is sort of like my name.
My rating: Do not hold your convention here.
I live in New York City (which will come into play later), and Philadelphia and New York have a weird relationship. It is sort of like the relationship between a celebrity and a stalker. New York does things and Philadelphia thinks that the thing was somehow about it and that the two cities are in a competition. It's endearing, until our pets start going missing. (Which happens. Pennsylvania — this is true — steals pigeons from New York to hunt.)
So what is there to do in Philadelphia? The city's visitors bureau explains its Phillyosophy, the contents of which don't matter because that term is so awful. The "top picks" of what to do include: 1) cheesesteaks, 2) a river boardwalk and 3) Thanksgiving, which we have to assume is related to the current moment, but maybe not. Food and rivers exist in the other cities, too.
But the main problem with Philadelphia is that you're not actually going anywhere. It has nice hotels and good restaurants and so on, but there's really very little that makes it a destination. People will go to a convention in Philly and then make day trips into New York. It is to the snotty East Coast what Kansas is to the rest of the country: train-through country. My apologies to the various people who were offended by that sentence, but sometimes you need to hear hard truths.
My expertise: I went to college there. (Yes, at that college.)
My rating: This is where you should hold your convention.
I am not up on Columbus as it exists today. I passed through there in 2006 and saw that a place where I'd lived in college was condemned, but that was completely appropriate based on the quality of that apartment.
But Columbus is a nice city. It has a large central square where one can find the statehouse, offering a sort of big town/small town feel. The river runs close to downtown, and there are several little interesting areas to explore (the Short North, German Village, etc.). Yes, there is a large scarlet-bedazzled university up High Street a ways, but that, too, has its charms. (It's a surprisingly intimate campus for the size of the student body.) (We're talking about Ohio State, by the way, in case you didn't know.)
We didn't talk about sports when we were talking about Philadelphia, because: The Eagles? The Sixers? Come on. Columbus has a professional hockey team, but it won't be playing during the convention (as the Flyers/Eagles/Sixers won't be). Columbus does have a Minor League Baseball team, which is the best kind of baseball. The good news is that Derek Jeter used to play there but then he moved east and was never heard from again, so you don't have to worry about seeing him around.
New York (Brooklyn)
My expertise: I live nearby.
My rating: Do not hold your convention here.
When the DNC first mentioned holding its convention in Brooklyn I wrote jokes about the prospect of its doing so. This is in part because I assumed that no one would actually consider doing such a thing. Brooklyn is fine; New York is great. But it's not a good place to hold things like conventions.
People think New York thinks it's too cool for such things, which isn't true — New Yorkers like to let people think we think we're too cool because it lets us be jerks to them when they cut us off in traffic or whatever. It's just that there's a lot going on, and almost nothing ever captures our attention completely. Earlier this year, the NFL held its premiere event in the greater New York area. My friend David Roth, writing for SB Nation, articulated the oddness of holding a big event (in that case, the Super Bowl) in a much bigger city.
Super Bowl week in New York City was not unlike any other week in New York City. In parts of the city not immediately adjacent to Super Bowl Boulevard, there was in fact little evidence that it was Super Bowl week. The bars and restaurants that people go to were as crowded as usual and little more; the bars and restaurants that Super Bowl tourists were expected to visit didn't report much additional business, either. This was doubtless a big week for gaudy midtown event spaces and businesses that rent out velvet ropes and red carpets and DJ equipment, and short-term jobs were created in the swag-bag construction and using-a-walkie-talkie-outside-the-GMC-fan-experience-trailer industries. But the Super Bowl is not resonating outside of the portion of the city that's been given over to it.
You can actually replace "Super Bowl" with "the convention" and that paragraph would almost certainly work as well in two years. The DNC wants to make a splash. In Columbus, it could take over the town. In New York, it would be a-thing-that-is-happening-that-is-messing-up-the-trains.
We've gone this far without mentioning Hillary Rodham Clinton, so here we go: A flashy New York convention would do her no good. A down-home, sensible Ohio convention seems much more in line with where the very possible nominee would want to be.
It doesn't matter, though. The Democrats could pick Crimea as their convention site and take only a slight hit in polling. Columbus is the best choice, and is isolated enough that attendees would actually stick around and enjoy a very nice city. New York is just a bad fit.
A personal appeal to the DNC: Please don't even seriously consider the third city, because picking it over New York would just be something that makes one of the monthly "Why Philly is better than New York" lists that appear in the local tabloids. Do not enable them.