4 things to know about the 2024 Chicago Democratic convention

Before a news conference marking Chicago winning the 2024 Democratic convention, key contracts were signed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Rocky Wirtz, co-chair of the United Center Joint Venture.

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DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison holds up Bulls and Blackhawks jerseys with the Biden-Harris names on the back. Both teams play at the United Center, the main venue for Chicago’s 2024 Democratic National Convention.

DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison holds up Bulls and Blackhawks jerseys with the Biden-Harris names on the back. Both teams play at the United Center, the main venue for Chicago’s 2024 Democratic National Convention.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Before the news conference outside of the Shedd Aquarium on Wednesday marking Chicago winning the 2024 Democratic convention — with the city’s skyline a stunning backdrop — key contracts locking in the deal were signed inside by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Rocky Wirtz, the co-chair of the United Center Joint Venture.

There was also a light lunch — chicken wraps and salads and a vegan option — plus a visit by one of Shedd’s very biggest and most enduring stars, Wellington-the-Penquin.

The site of the celebration was very deliberate — to showcase Chicago, since a purpose of a city bidding for a presidential convention is not so much to nominate a presidential candidate as it is to whip up business and enhance its reputation.

Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison came to Chicago a day after Chicago’s winning bid was announced by the DNC, which scrutinized offers from Chicago, Atlanta and New York.

The skyline background was an obvious choice. When then-Democratic National Committee chair David Wilhelm traveled to the city to make Chicago’s choice for the 1996 Democratic convention official, he did it on Navy Pier.

The final decision for the host city came from President Joe Biden, and while New York seemed to take it in stride, the front page headline of the print Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said in big, sad letters, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

My friend, AJC columnist Patricia Murphy, put the city’s disappointment this way: “It felt a little like a breakup we never saw coming.”

The news conference speakers were Harrison, Lightfoot, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a DNC vice chair, Gov. J.B. Pritzker — the quarterbacks of the Chicago bid — and Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson.

Republicans hold their convention July 15–18, 2024, in Milwaukee. A few weeks later and 93 miles south, Democrats will meet in Chicago Aug. 19-20 to nominate Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Observations, news and what’s next in the march toward the convention:

CONTRACTS

Deals with multiple private and government entities have been negotiated or are still in the works. On Wednesday, Lightfoot signed off on the city’s pledges and Wirtz OK’d the lease on the United Center, which will reprise its 1996 role and host delegates each evening.

Contracts are still pending with McCormick Place and organized labor — with everything on track toward signing. Each of the 30 hotels housing delegates — all in the city — also did or are doing contracts dealing with room blocks, rates and other details.

FUNDRAISING

There are two entities that will be handling the considerable fundraising that will be needed. The bid was in the ballpark of $80 million. Money will be raised through the political arm, the 2024 Democratic National Convention Committee, and a nonpartisan group, a Chicago Host Committee.

The DNCC works with state parties, the DNC, delegates, Biden reelect campaign and puts together and pays for the convention “production.”

The host committee may well include civic-minded corporations headquartered in and around Chicago and Republican donors or corporate chiefs who just want to boost the city, spur tourism and increase economic development. The host committee will pay for welcome parties and recruit and coordinate the 12,000-plus volunteers who will be needed in the months ahead.

LIGHTFOOT’S LEGACY

The convention will be Lightfoot’s enduring legacy. Defeated for a second term on Feb. 28, a lot of the negotiations on the city’s end have or will have taken place by the time her term ends on May 15. She was the lead off speaker and spent time thanking — well, everyone.

“Look, it takes all of us, it’s going to take a village to make sure that we showcase this city on the highest stage”… there are “too many” “pundits and critics” who “talk about our city in a way that is unrecognizable to us who live here. This will help right the wrong and tell the truth about the best city in the United States, bar none, the city of Chicago.”

WHY DO CONVENTIONS MATTER?

It’s not about your politics, per se. It’s about being able to witness one of the bedrock institutions of our democracy. And yes, it can be inspiring and just very cool to be at a convention session during the speeches.

Harrison told his story. In 1988, he was 12 years old, and at the Democratic convention in Atlanta. Chicago’s Rev. Jesse Jackson was making his second run for president.

“And he was talking about hope. And he was inspiring a whole new generation to get involved, to take control, to make sure that hope was available for their generations and generations to come.”

And now the 47-year-old Harrison, the third Black DNC chair, the son of a teen mom is, he said, “now going to gavel in the convention, right here in Chicago.”

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