WASHINGTON — For Democrats, New York would offer a diverse tableau in liberal Brooklyn and a touch of Clinton nostalgia. Philadelphia would give the party a patriotic backdrop while Columbus would raise the curtain on another campaign showdown in Ohio.
Democrats are closing in on a final decision on where to hold their 2016 convention, a site that could serve as a passing of the baton from President Barack Obama to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the leading contender for the Democratic nomination should she run for president again.
With a price tag of at least $65 million, the choice will come down to whether to set the stage for Obama’s Democratic successor in a big city or in the confines of another battleground state. Obama was formally nominated in Denver in 2008 and in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2012, allowing his campaign to use the events to register new voters and recruit volunteers in states crucial to his political map. The three cities in the hunt for the 2016 host venue have been negotiating with the Democratic National Committee and a final decision is expected in late January or early February.
New York, the nation’s largest city, has been a popular choice in the past, holding Democratic conventions in 1976, 1980 and 1992, when former President Bill Clinton was first nominated at Madison Square Garden. The city has played up its diversity as the home to a large Latino population and organizers are confident that Brooklyn’s bid — the first time New York has pitched a political convention outside Manhattan — wouldn’t have trouble raising money.
Hillary Clinton represented New York in the Senate and the Clintons live in nearby Westchester County, where the former secretary of state’s presidential campaign is expected to be headquartered should she seek the nomination, as widely expected.
Philadelphia’s organizers point to the city’s heritage as the home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were adopted, along with its convenient East Coast location and compact, easy-to-navigate community.
Columbus, meanwhile, would bring the convention to one of the nation’s top presidential battleground states and offer a convenient rebuttal to Republicans, who are holding their July 2016 convention in Cleveland.
Downplaying symbolism, party leaders say their choice will be based on practical matters such as finances, transportation, security and available hotel rooms. Organizers of the 2012 convention in Charlotte struggled with fundraising and some delegates at past conventions have complained of long commutes from far-flung hotels.
“This decision will primarily center around logistics, financing and security, but we have three excellent options and are looking forward to a diverse and inclusive 2016 convention that displays our party’s values,” said Lily Adams, a DNC spokeswoman.
Democrats also need to pick a date, which could factor into the party’s 2016 strategy. Republicans will hold their Cleveland convention from July 18-21. Democrats are considering either the week of July 25, immediately after the Republican event, or the week of Aug. 22, following the Summer Olympics.
Here’s a look at the three cities vying for the convention:
PROS: Brooklyn has become its own brand, a comeback story that is a symbol of youthful energy and urban cool. The convention would be held at the gleaming Barclays Center, arguably the nation’s most state-of-the-art arena, while delegates would split their time between Brooklyn and Manhattan just a few subway stops away. Along with its fundraising ability, New York’s Brooklyn has become a symbol of liberalism, embodied by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will still be in office in 2016.
CONS: The ongoing rift between de Blasio and rank-and-file members of the New York Police Department threatens to overshadow the bid in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of two police officers and protests over police conduct in the Eric Garner case. The city’s tense relationship with the NYPD unions — who are working on an expired contract — could be a problem at Barclays, which will rely heavily on the department to provide security. A New York location could also put a spotlight on Clinton’s ties to Wall Street at a time when some liberals vilify the financial industry.
QUOTE: “Brooklyn matters, because Brooklyn has shown the way — this amazing renaissance over the last few decades, a place that was often the underdog is now the envy of the world.” — de Blasio.
PROS: Columbus, Ohio’s capital city, sits at the heart of a coveted political swing state. The last Democrat to win the White House without carrying Ohio was John F. Kennedy in 1960 and no Republican ever has. One study found 147.5 million people, or 48 percent of the U.S. population, live within a day’s drive of Columbus. The convention would be held at Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, and the neighborhood includes a convention center and an array of restaurants, bars and hotels. Republicans’ choice of Cleveland might give Democrats an incentive to make a quick counterpoint before the state’s coveted voter base.
CONS: Columbus does not have the national reputation of its two rivals and has never staged a national convention for either party. The city lacks a robust subway system and its bus system doesn’t effectively serve some of the hotel clusters around Columbus’ outskirts, where delegates may be staying. The decision by local police to pepper spray crowds of fans celebrating Ohio State University’s national football championship could also be considered.
QUOTE: “There are few events that provide us the opportunity to showcase our city on a national stage, and we are ready to put forth our best effort and show the DNC and the entire nation just what Columbus is all about.” — Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman.
PROS: A highly walkable and historic city, Philadelphia has been the home to a variety of large events and played host to the Republican National Convention in 2000. The Vatican chose Philadelphia as the site for the World Meeting of Families, which Pope Francis will attend in September. Philadelphia has a booming millennial population, a demographic that Democrats want to capture in next year’s election. Clinton also has ties to Pennsylvania — her father was born in Scranton and she has longtime allies in the state such as former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, an ex-chairman of the DNC. Democrats have carried Pennsylvania in every presidential election since 1992 but Republicans hope for a breakthrough there.
CONS: Though the main political gathering would take place at the Wells Fargo Center sports arena, some smaller events would be held at a downtown convention center involved in a major dispute with the carpenters union. During the Republican convention in 2000, police were criticized for their heavy-handed dealings with protesters.
QUOTE: “The road to the White House leads right through the city of Philadelphia.” — Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus and Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report.