The circus is coming back: Philly snags Democratic National Convention

 Mayor Michael Nutter is surrounding by celebration following the announcement that Philadelphia has been selected to host the Democratic National Convention next year. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Mayor Michael Nutter is surrounding by celebration following the announcement that Philadelphia has been selected to host the Democratic National Convention next year. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Get ready to party, Philly — in 18 months, that is — after we’ve raised about $80 million to cover the tab.


Fifteen years after Philadelphia hosted the Republican national convention, the city has gotten the nod to host the Democrats presidential nominating convention next year.

Mayor Michael Nutter welcomed more reporters than he’s seen in a while to his cabinet room in City Hall Thursday to witness a conference call with Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

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“Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, thank you so so very much,” Nutter said into a speaker phone on his table. ” Thank you for the great call this morning and the conversation. That is one hell of a way to start a morning.”

The city has been working with a privately funded host committee for more than a year to prepare a detailed proposal for the Democrats. It covers everything from where delegates will stay, to how they’ll get to the Wells Fargo Center and other venues, to how the city will construct a media center adjacent to the arena for hundreds of visiting reporters.

It came down to a competition among Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Columbus, Ohio. At the conference call, a New York Post reporter asked if Brooklyn’s bid was undermined by political scandals or police controversies. Wasserman Schulz said nope — for the DNC, it was really a business decision.

“Our first priority was to ensure that a city could transport and house attendees seamlessly, make sure that our delegates would have the best possible experience, execute a convention that’s safe and secure, and make sure the city has the resources to put on what is a very unique, large-scale event,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Notice she referred to a city having the needed resources. That requirement is very real, and very specific. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who co-chairs the host effort, said the city’s promised to raise $85 million for convention expenses, and the DNC asked to see some money in an escrow account.

“We put nearly $5 million into that bank account, which is now going to be turned over to the committee to use as we go forward,” Rendell said. “We also have about $12 million in pledges. So that $17 million was a very good start.”

That still leaves tens of millions of dollars to be raised, mostly from private sources. Nutter has said no city dollars will be contributed.

There’s been a buzz in the business and civic community about “donor fatigue.” Many of those who might contribute to the DNC are already being asked to donate to the World Meeting of Families, which will host Pope Francis in the city in September.

Independence Blue Cross CEO Daniel Hilferty is deeply involved in both fundraising efforts, and said business leaders appreciate the value of both mega events to the city and region.

“There are some that have made the decision,`We really want to be involved in the world meeting of families, we want to support Pope Francis coming’, and others have held back,” Hilferty said. “And they’ll say, `This is, for me, the Democratic National Convention,’ and so we feel confident that, yes, you have to work at it to raise the money, but the business community, the civic community will come through.”

Why go to all this effort? Its not so much about politics as tourism, economic impact and self-promotion. Thousands of influential people will spend time and money in the city and hopefully speak well of it when they go home. And Nutter says, it will bring good PR that the city just couldn’t buy.

“People have to understand that every national journalist will be in Philadelphia for probably five or six days. Virtually every country in the world will send journalists to report on this convention. They will shop here, they will sleep here,” he said.

City boosters were thrilled when Philadelphia got the Republican convention in 2000. Meryl Levitz, CEO of the tourism group Visit Philly, was an active participant in that effort, and she said the city has so much more to offer now, including new hotels, sports facilities and an expanded convention center.

“We have sidewalk cafes on the street. We have a booming restaurant scene,” Levitz said. “We have cleaned up parks and gardens and historic district, and two reclaimed waterfronts. And that’s just for starters.”

Rendell noted that while the Democratic delegates might not have pockets as deep as the Republican delegates did, there will be more of them coming in 2016.

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