Democrats name three cities as finalists for 2016 convention location

A view of the Philadelphia city skyline on April 25, 2014 in Philadelphia, Penn. (Bruce Bennett/Getty)
A view of the Philadelphia city skyline on April 25, 2014 in Philadelphia, Penn.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has chosen three cities as finalists to host the party's next presidential nominating event in 2016: New York City, Philadelphia, and Columbus, Ohio.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the DNC, made the decision public on Monday, following a round of site visits to five locations. The DNC organizes the quadrennial event.

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"We are fortunate to have such a diverse and vibrant group of cities interested in hosting this special event and we thank Phoenix and Birmingham for showcasing their special communities. We look forward to working with Columbus, New York, and Philadelphia as we go forward," she wrote in a statement.

She included three dates under consideration for the event: The weeks of July 18, July 25, and Aug. 22. The Democrats are expected to make a final decision by early next year.

New York, along with five other cities — Columbus, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Birmingham, Alabama  — submitted bids earlier this year to host the 2016 DNC. New York City appears to be the outlier, though, because of the Empire State’s consistently blue voting record.

In July, the Republican National Committee selected Cleveland as the site for its 2016 convention. The city, located in the swing state of Ohio, beat Dallas as the host city for the GOP's presidential nominating event.

The finalists have long been expected among watchers and Democratic insiders, who said Birmingham and Phoenix couldn’t raise the necessary funds.

“Symbolism matters, but it's about third or fourth place. First is money. The second issue infrastructure. How many taxi cabs do they have? How easy is it to get to the hotels and back? How fast can you build out the convention? Those are all the things that matter,” former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who oversaw Denver’s selection for the 2008 convention, told msnbc. “The most important thing is: Do you have confidence in the host committee to be able to run this convention?”

During the 2012 convention in Charlotte — which cost more than $42 million — the party had to scramble and cancel events when the host committee fell more than $25 million behind in their fundraising efforts. After that experience, the DNC is especially wary about getting burned again when it comes to money.

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“People get wrapped up in the symbolism, but this is primarily a business decision that will be based on logistics, finances and security,” DNC spokesperson Lily Adams told msnbc.

With that in mind, each of the three cities has its advantages and disadvantages, Democrats say.

New York City is the clear winner on finances. Its massive 101-member host committee, which includes Wall Street titans like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs head Lloyd Blankfein, already raised $10 million in pledges and secured promises to raise $100 million or more.

“New York is our biggest competition ... they got a little deeper pockets than we do,” Rep. Bob Brady, who represents Philadelphia and chairs the city’s Democratic Party, told msnbc last month.

Logistically, however, New York’s convention bid is complicated by the fact that most of the city’s hotels are in Manhattan, while the main event would take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Security could be another concern in New York. In August, the largest senior police officers’ union in the country warned the DNC to stay out of New York City. “It is no time for ambitious local politicians and political ‘wannabees’ who ignore public safety to bask in the spotlight of a national event,” Sargent Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins wrote in a letter to the DNC. Still, the city has experience providing security for massive events like the United Nations General Assembly and previous national conventions for both parties — though all those events were held in Manhattan.

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Politically, some allies of Hillary Clinton suspect the likely presidential nominee would prefer another city, since she’s expected to headquarter her presidential campaign in or near the city. In addition, New York City is not in a swing state, unlike the other finalists.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, has convenient logistics with its compact downtown. It also boasts great political and historical value, as well as a location in a key swing state. Plus, the Clintons and the city have a long, warm relationship. Ed Rendell, the former mayor and governor, is leading the charge for the city and has plenty of clout and a deep ties to the Clintons.

But finances could be the city’s Achilles' heel. Philadelphia is home to only nine Fortune 500 companies, and the convention will have to compete for fundraising dollars with another major event — a visit from Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families conference next fall. “I’m not totally sure they can pull it off,” a Democratic fundraiser from the city privately acknowledged. Some detractors also point out that Mayor Michael Nutter is term-limited and will have to be replaced next year, which could add uncertainty to the city's commitment to the convention after that. 

Columbus, meanwhile, is extremely committed and in a key swing state, but some say finances could be a challenge in the smaller city. And its bid was complicated when Republicans chose Cleveland as their convention city. But Mayor Michael Coleman told msnbc that he's extremely confident his city can raise the necessary resources, and that donor base of Cleveland and Columbus "do not overlap."

"All the cities have the capacity," the mayor said in an interview, but Columbus will offer a more affordable experience for delegates, who have to pay their own way. Most importantly, he added, it could boost Democrats in the heart of the most important swing state in the country.

"I know some will say that's never proven the case in other conventions," Coleman said, "but those arguments are made by people who don't live in Ohio — I live in Ohio. Presence matters. There's nothing more present than the largest convention in the world."

This summer, a delegation of technical experts visited each of the cities to inspect venues and assess viability.

The cities roll out the red carpet for the delegates — or in the case of Columbus, the blue carpet, since these are Democrats, after all. In Philly, the delegation met a Rocky Impersonator while eating cheesesteaks. In New York, they dined at the Met and took a boat tour around the Statue of Liberty. In Birmingham, they visited the 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the infamous civil rights-era bombing. And in Columbus, astronaut John Glenn stopped by for a visit and a large choir entertained them. In Phoenix, the delegates saw Native American artifacts and sampled the local cuisine.