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Denver has tried three times in the past ten years to be selected to host the Democratic National Convention. Mayor John Hickenlooper is considering whether we should try again.
Prior to hosting the 2004 convention, Boston Mayor Thomas Marino estimated the city would reap $154 million in revenue. It didn’t come close to that. This group (pdf) put the net benefit at $14.8 million.
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The road closures and the closure of North Station threatened to tie up hundreds of thousands of commuters and travelers in traffic. The increased surveillance of subway riders deterred some riders, uncomfortable with the idea of having their backpacks searched or with the security worries that the searches reinforced. The convention forced the cancellation of other events that would have brought in millions of dollars in new spending.
On the plus side, we have spending by delegates, the convention host committee, security officials
and event sponsors adding up to $140.3 million. Translated into final economic impact, this side of
the ledger shows $156.7 million in benefits to the city. Offsetting the benefits are the costs to the
city, measured by the value of events that were displaced by the convention and by reduced
spending by commuters and tourists. On balance, the effect of the convention turns out to be
positive (if small) because the lost spending by commuters and tourists, however, painful for local
merchants, was less harmful than the benefits from the new spending brought in by the convention.
Political conventions are largely pre-determined and scripted. Yet, they also energize the party base, which can help win an election:
One could argue that modern day conventions are little more than four-day advertisements for the political parties. Because there is no longer much suspense, conventions have suffered declining viewership, coverage by the major networks has been cut, and some observers have suggested that the conventions themselves should be cut to three days.
The conventions may have been reduced to rubber stamps, but they still fulfill a vital function in the life of the political parties. In many ways, the essence of a convention is what happens off of the convention floor. In the lead-up to the convention, the drafting of the party platform provides interests aligned with the party a forum to present their concerns. During the days of the convention itself, hundreds of events, caucuses, receptions, breakfasts, fundraisers, and parties take place in the hotels surrounding the convention hall. At the end of the convention, party activists return to their communities energized for the fall campaign and, if all goes well, the presidential ticket emerges with a convention bounce.
I attended the Democratic Convention in Boston as a credentialed blogger. I was in New York for the Republican Convention, covering it from blocks away rather than from the convention hall. New York was far more manageable than Boston. Downtown Boston, including businesses, were essentially shut down for four days. The security was massive. In New York, it was business as usual.
I lean towards opposing the bid for the DNC convention. Denver has far more in common with Boston than New York or LA. I think the image boon will be temporary and the expenses the city will incur could be better spent elsewhere, such as on programs that benefit our own citizens. Let’s make Denver the best it can be for us, rather than investing huge sums to showcase ourselves to others.