It wouldn’t be a Democratic National Convention if you couldn’t buy a donkey on a T-shirt.
The official store of the Philadelphia Host Committee just opened in the Comcast building downtown, where you can find travel mugs, lapel pins, lip balm, bottle openers, shot glasses, onesies, playing cards, tote bags, and tins of mint candies — none featuring messages or imagery related to Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
The DNC host committee hired seven artists to develop seven different graphics that could be printed onto just about anything under the sun.
“We’re a small staff, and we’re probably not the most creative bunch all the time,” said Kevin Washo, executive director of Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee. “We knew there was a lot of talent in Philadelphia, and we wanted to tap into that.”
One of those artists is LisaBeth Weber, who created a triptych logo featuring the Liberty Bell, a cartoon donkey, and a pretzel.
“One of the parameters was to not specifically do items with Hillary or Bernie,” she said. “More focused on Philadelphia.”
Weber, a longtime producer of political buttons, attended the last two Democratic conventions. “Hillary wore one of my pins during the Kerry campaign,” she said, dropping names Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, and NPR’s Political Junkie Ken Rudin.
The buttons she sells on her website have more active messaging about politics, environment, and women’s issues. As a “good, strong Democrat,” she created buttons for both Clinton and Sanders, but her heart is with Clinton.
For the DNC store, she reined in her activism in favor of more general messaging for the Democratic Party and the city of Philadelphia.
The company that hired the artists, Impact Dimensions, is contractually obligated to refrain from advertising candidates.
“It’s not that we didn’t want to; there’s a whole separate vendor that has a contract for that,” said Luis Liceaga, president of Impact Dimensions. “Our contract is with the host committee so that we could use the Democratic Host Committee logo.”
Nevertheless, advocacy got through. One of the artists, Brett Bender, created an image of a donkey wearing four pink pumps — a high heel on each of its hooves. He came up with the image about a year ago, before Clinton decided to run.
“There was so much discussion about glass ceilings, transgender, and was Hillary going to run or not,” said Bender. “That’s where the whimsy came from. It’s not just whimsy, it’s pretty provocative stuff.”
Bender is not new to selling massive civic events. He created a T-shirt graphic hawked during the Pope visit last year. It didn’t make him rich, but it did land him a role in a car commercial.
Merchandise by the city’s Host Committee is distinct from merchandise created by the National Committee, which is distinct from merchandise by the individual candidate campaigns. Inevitably, there will also be black market merchandise sold by illegal vendors on the street, as they were when the Pope visited.
The city’s department of Licenses and Inspections expects DNC week to be different.
“It’s a different type of event. The crowds aren’t expected to be the same and it’s just not expected to be as different from day to day life as we saw when the pope was here,” said L&I spokeswoman Karen Guss. “The streets are not going to be thronged with people in the same way.”