For Milwaukee, the 2020 Democratic National Convention was the big miss, the city’s political dreams coming up against the reality of the pandemic that forced the event to be mostly virtual with the big speeches in Wilmington, Del.
Would the city want to try again in 2024?
That’s the question now floating in the wake of a letter sent late last week by the Democratic National Committee Chair Jamie Harrison to 20 cities, including Milwaukee, opening the bid process for the 2024 convention.
Cities interested in submitting a bid were asked to contact Harrison in writing by October 1.
In a statement Monday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expressed interest in making another pitch for a convention, but had few specifics.
“Based on its designation of Milwaukee as the 2020 convention host, the Democratic National Committee certainly has a positive impression of our city,” Barrett said. “I appreciate the invitation they’ve extended, and I will answer that Milwaukee remains interested in being a national political convention site.
The formal process of assembling a bid for the 2024 Democratic National Convention requires quite a number of partners here in Milwaukee, and I will be consulting with those partners as we make decisions about moving forward.”
Republicans haven’t yet begun their process of picking a convention city.
It might be tough to get the gang back together to make a push for a convention in Milwaukee, so soon after the last one.
For one thing, Alex Lasry, who helped spearhead the effort, is now running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. But he urged the city to make a push.
“Milwaukee should absolutely bid for the 2024 DNC Convention,” he said in a statement. “As everyone just saw during the NBA Finals, Wisconsin is more than capable of hosting a world-class event in a way no one ever has before.”
For another, there’s a pretty big hangover from 2020. The pandemic played havoc with the convention. The hope that tens of thousands people would converge on the city, filling hotels and restaurants, fell by the wayside as the pandemic forced change after change.
In the end, the convention’s physical footprint in Milwaukee shrank, and nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris gave the main speeches in Biden’s home state of Delaware.
Despite the setbacks, the Milwaukee Host Committee performed a big lift, raising $42.7 million for the event.
“Things have changed since the effort was put forward to put Milwaukee’s name in the hat for 2020,” said John W. Miller, who chaired the board for the local host committee.
The previous DNC chair, Tom Perez, had ties to Wisconsin. His wife was from Wauwatosa.
On the plus side, Miller said, the Bucks run to the NBA title and the crowds that flocked in and around Fiserv Forum, “proved that Milwaukee can handle a big event with thousands of people on the street.”
But the reality of the process beginning so soon is sobering.
“I do think there is a bit of a hangover from the letdown,” from last year’s event, Miller said. “It’s unfortunate we have to blame a pandemic for that.”
Miller said if a successful bid could be put together, “it would be so great for Milwaukee.” But a group of people would have to come together to push for a bid, and Miller said he has not heard of that happening.
In his letter to prospective convention cities, Harrison wrote that the site selection process is beginning earlier this cycle.
“This will be a historic event that can help shape the future of your city for decades to come,” he wrote. “Hosting a national convention can be a great economic boon for any city. Past convention host cities have enjoyed an economic impact of approximately $150 million to $200 million. With over 35,000 delegates, honored guests, and members of the press in attendance, the Democratic National Convention can be an enormous opportunity to showcase your city as a world-class destination.
“Also, given the success of our ‘unconventional,’ largely virtual convention in 2020, we are open to exploring new approaches and are continuing to rethink the best way to hold our next convention as well,” Harrison wrote.
He added: “In your correspondence, it is not necessary to submit any substantive response at this time — only to indicate that your city wishes to participate in the RFP (Request for Proposals) process, which will begin in earnest later this year.”