Chicago’s drive for 2024 Democratic convention jumps into high gear

A Chicago 2024 Host Committee, tasked with raising millions of dollars for the bid, is expected to be named soon.

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Construction underway for the Democratic National Convention at the United Center in Chicago on Monday, July 29, 1996.

Construction underway for the Democratic National Convention at the United Center in Chicago on Monday, July 29, 1996.

Charles Bennett/AP file photo

Organizers of Chicago’s bid to host the 2024 Democratic convention are kicking into high gear, triggered by the Democratic National Committee’s release of the document detailing the gigantic commitment of money, union hotel rooms and related venues needed to land the event.

Chicago and seven other cities — including Atlanta and Houston — were asked by the DNC to submit a bid by May 27, sending a “Request for Proposal” on Friday. The convention is expected to be held in the summer of 2024, although exact dates have not yet been selected.

Organizers have been laying the groundwork to submit a bid for months. The principals at Magnify Strategies, the firm quarterbacking the effort, including the massive fundraising needed, are closely connected to Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a DNC vice chair.

The firm founder, Kaitlin Fahey, has been associated with Duckworth for years. Magnify’s Leah Israel was the chief fundraiser for the 2020 Democratic Convention in Milwaukee, raising some $45 million for the gathering, which ended up being mostly virtual because of COVID. Paul Kohnstamm, also with the firm, has been holding meetings with potential convention stakeholders, which includes Chicago’s labor and hotel communities.

The Sun-Times has learned the RFP wants information about hotel rooms, potential sites, capacity for the city to handle the number of people expected, as well as transportation options and access from any potential convention center site.

The DNC is also requiring an extensive financial package from the host city, either in cash or in-kind services to cover a variety of costs — from festivities connected to a political convention to paying for the venue itself, likely the United Center, which hosted the 1996 Democratic convention.

Chicago has multiple selling points that address DNC demands: A large number of union hotel rooms; a big union workforce; a commitment from all local leaders to diversity in contracting and a large number of venues for related activities.

There is also an intangible much valued by delegates, donors and other convention attendees: Everything in Chicago is close. Though COVID meant Milwaukee never hosted an in-person Democratic convention, the city was so short of hotel rooms some big state delegations were going to be housed at hotels near O’Hare.

Michael Jacobson, the president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, told the Sun-Times that there are about 50,000 hotel rooms in Chicago, and some 83,000 rooms if including all of Cook County — which sweeps in the lodging corridors around Midway and O’Hare Airports.

“We will be able to house everybody in very close quarters, all in the central business district, and that matters for planning an event like this,” Jacobson told the Sun-Times.

Even though the Democratic convention is obviously a political event, the business it brings to the area — and the chance for a city to present itself to a world stage — means the host committee, now in formation, has the ability to attract major contributions from corporations and Republican givers.

Organizers are poised to announce the initial Chicago 2024 host committee members. A source told the Sun-Times the participants will read like a “who’s who of Chicago.” The organizers are also looking for support from former President Barack Obama, whose major foundation donors include a variety of Chicago-based companies expected to be wooed for the host committee.

Chicago’s bid is also expected to be bolstered by billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has the ability to donate and raise some of the millions the DNC will demand to be put on the table.

Milwaukee is a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican convention, and according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, organizers there are budgeting $65 million to stage the convention.

DNC OFFICIALS HITTING CHICAGO

DNC executive director Sam Cornale will be in Chicago for a series of events on April 28, the Sun-Times has learned, some organized by DNC Midwest Finance Director Michael Woicekowski.

Pritzker’s team has been in “constant contact” with the DNC and plans to meet with Cornale when he’s in Chicago.

At some point an official DNC site selection committee will visit Chicago.

ILLINOIS DEMOCRATS MULLING EARLY PRIMARY BID

Looking to hold primaries in more diverse states, the DNC is likely in 2024 to break the grip Iowa and New Hampshire have on the first presidential votes. Illinois Democrats are mulling whether to make an official bid to be one of the early states.

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