Pittsburgh among 15 cities asked to pitch for 2016 Democratic convention
April 22, 2014 11:41 PM
An aerial view of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The Pittsburgh Downtown Skyline, Heinz Field and PNC Park in the foreground.
By Tracie Mauriello / Post-Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Pittsburgh is in competition with Philadelphia and 13 other cities invited to apply to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
The Democratic National Committee sent requests for proposals to the 15 cities Monday and asked them to respond by June 6.
Mayor Bill Peduto said Pittsburgh will submit a proposal but was simultaneously exploring whether it would be financially feasible for the cash-strapped city.
"We still have a structural deficit in the city that's very real. We've been hiding it for years, and we're not in any position to use our operating budget to bring any convention to the city," he said.
The 2016 nominating conventions will be the first since Congress voted to end federal funding of them.
That means the national committees or local hosts will have to find ways to make up for the lost federal money. In 2012, the federal government provided $18.2 million for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte and $18.2 million for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Mr. Peduto said hosting a convention would undeniably raise the Steel City's profile, both nationally and internationally. But that wouldn't be enough to convince him it would be worthwhile to host it.
"You bring every Democratic leader into this town and you have leaders from around the world who are watching it and every time, every several minutes the name of Pittsburgh is brought to them," he said. "It certainly raises Pittsburgh's stature, but that in and of itself isn't enough to warrant [hosting the convention]. It also has to have a benefit for the city and its business community."
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he is pleased Pittsburgh is under serious consideration.
"Obviously, the Democratic Party views Pittsburgh, views Western Pennsylvania as kind of a model, an example of how public policy in the nation should be," he said.
He pointed out that, in recent months, President Barack Obama has twice visited Allegheny County, traveling with Vice President Joe Biden to North Fayette last week and to West Mifflin in January.
The invitation to apply didn't surprise local Democrats.
"Pittsburgh is become the leading progressive city with a strong mayor and a progressive county executive. We would really -- more than any other place -- welcome the convention with open arms," said Jeanne Clark, chairwoman of The Shadyside Dems.
Other cities invited to submit proposals are Atlanta; Chicago; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Miami; Nashville; New York; Orlando; Phoenix; and Salt Lake City.
The Democratic National Committee is expected to announce its selection at the end of the year.
Ms. Clark said Pittsburgh will have to lobby hard, educate decision-makers about the region and raise money from private donors.
But first the region needs to show it has the capacity to host a major convention.
Hotel rooms, infrastructure and public transportation are among the things the selection committee is looking for, but its interests go beyond logistics.
"While many of the requirements are specific to the various logistical and administrative goals of putting on the Democratic National Convention, we do seek a city that shares our values of equality, inclusion, diversity, respect and dignity," Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote Monday in a letter to the 15 cities. "Because of the significant security and construction-related issues that we will face, we also look for a city with strong relationships with organized labor."
Local Democrats said Pittsburgh easily fits that description.
In his request for proposals, the national committee also asked for assurances that there are at least 18,000 hotel rooms. VisitPittsburgh counts 24,500 hotel rooms in the region. With a dozen more hotels under construction, the capacity will approach 26,000 by convention time, said president and CEO Craig Davis.
Mr. Fitzgerald said delegates might have to stay in hotels as far as Monroeville and Cranberry. His own experience attending the 2012 convention in Charlotte, N.C., showed him that many attendees stay "pretty far away" from the convention center.
Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Davis said events held in the region in recent years -- such as the G-20 in 2009 and One Young World in 2012 -- demonstrated the city's ability to host major events.
"The success of the G-20 gave us street credibility," Mr. Davis said.
"The G-20 was very complex to have in the city and the Allegheny Conference, VisitPittsburgh, the city and the county all banded together to make it happen. It would be relatively simple to get us all back together and do it again."
Barbara Hafer, a former state treasurer and auditor general who attended five Republican and Democratic conventions, said Pittsburgh is a great location because of its history, culture, resilience and beauty.
If the national committee members "haven't been to Pittsburgh, we're going to have to be really aggressive about telling them our story," she said. "I think we can compete with anybody."
Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. Staff writers Moriah Balingit and Kaitlynn Riely contributed. First Published April 22, 2014 1:00 PM
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