Chicago to host 2024 Democratic National Convention

The convention, to run Aug. 19-22, 2024, is expected to draw up to 50,000 visitors to Chicago, which last hosted Democrats in 1996.

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The United Center with the Chicago skyline in the background

The 2024 Democratic convention will be in Chicago Aug. 19-22, with delegates meeting each evening in the United Center.

Courtesy of the United Center

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee selected Chicago to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, the Sun-Times has learned, with the city beating bids from Atlanta and New York.

The convention will take place Aug. 19-22 next year. It is expected to draw 5,000 to 7,000 delegates and alternates and attract up to 50,000 visitors to Chicago.

Evening events will be at the United Center — the main site of the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago and the largest arena in North America — with daytime business to be conducted at the McCormick Place Convention Center, the location of the 2012 NATO Summit.

Delegates will be housed in about 30 hotels in Chicago.

For more than a year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a co-chair of the Democratic National Committee and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have led a drive for Chicago to host the Democrats in 2024.

Chicago won the convention with a bid package of about $80 million.

President Joe Biden called Pritzker to tell him about Chicago’s selection on Tuesday morning before leaving for Ireland.

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The call: Pritzker has been pitching Biden for the convention for over a year. The president called Pritzker Tuesday and told him, a source said, “I just want you to know we’re planning on having the Democratic convention in Chicago.”

Security: After the announcement, social media chatter about the violent 1968 convention started. But former police officials say the city needs to look at lessons from a more recent turbulent event in Chicago.

Residents react: “I think it’s a good thing. Chicago is a wonderful place. We have everything to offer,” said South Loop resident O’Dell Boyd.

Business boost: Local business leaders hope that by bringing a global spotlight to Chicago, the political event will show off the city’s best features and accelerate its post-pandemic resurgence.

At about the same time, Duckworth got a call from Biden White House adviser Steve Ricchetti, telling her about Chicago’s winning bid. DNC Chair Jaime Harrison phoned Lightfoot, and Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson got a call from the White House.

On Wednesday, Harrison will be in Chicago for a press conference with Duckworth, Pritzker, Lightfoot and Johnson to celebrate Chicago hosting the 2024 convention.

Biden has been planning to seek a second term, with his team putting together his reelection campaign. He will make an “official” announcement at a later date.

By selecting Chicago for the convention, Democrats are highlighting the importance of the Midwest “Blue Wall” states — Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The governors in these states, all Democrats, were all reelected in 2022.

How Chicago was picked

Chicago’s convention backers highlighted the abundance of downtown-area union hotels; the large, centrally located convention venues near hotels; Midway and O’Hare airports; and the restaurants and museums in the city.

Then there were the political considerations. One of the main political arguments Chicago backers used was that putting the convention in the Midwest reinforces the “Blue Wall” battleground states beyond solid blue Illinois.

Last month, Democratic officials from Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana — all supporting Chicago’s bid — wrote to Biden and Harrison, underscoring the importance of Michigan and Wisconsin in retaining the White House in 2024.

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Wisconsin’s election last Tuesday also reinforced the “Blue Wall” when voters in the Supreme Court contest, for the first time in 15 years, switched the court to a liberal majority when Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz beat former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, a conservative supported by Republicans.

The convention will showcase the Biden agenda, values and the president’s accomplishments. The policies and agendas of Biden and Pritzker are closely aligned.

Illinois has an assault weapons ban, abortion rights locked in and workers’ rights laws. Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois capital plan and the city have been boosted by Biden’s signature infrastructure law. In January, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Chicago to announce $144 million in federal funding from the infrastructure law to rehabilitate the Illinois International Port Calumet River Bridges.

Chicago was chosen after getting top grades in an evaluation by the DNC’s Technical Advisory Group, a panel of experts considering factors such as hotel capacity, transportation, security, financing and other logistics.

Last year, the Technical Advisory Group visited the four cities bidding for the convention: Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Houston. Houston dropped out months ago when it was clear the Texas city didn’t have a chance to be picked. In the meantime, the DNC started contract negotiations with the other cities.

The entity created to fundraise for the convention, Development Now Chicago, was incorporated with the Illinois secretary of state on Dec. 2, 2021. Pritzker, a billionaire, made a substantial contribution to the group.

The Sun-Times earlier reported that Pritzker and others pledged that the DNC would not realize any losses from the convention. The DNC requires an extensive financial package from the host city to cover a variety of costs, from festivities connected to a political convention to paying for the venues.

Pritzker held the first talks with Harrison about hosting the convention in Chicago in the fall of 2021.

Chicago proposed the United Center as the main convention site, with other events at the McCormick Place complex. New York offered Madison Square Garden and the Jacob K. Javits Center. Atlanta pitched the State Farm Arena and the Georgia World Congress Center.

In June, Pritzker and Lightfoot came to Washington to pitch DNC officials on the Chicago convention. The group briefing the DNC about the city’s bid included Pritzker; Lightfoot; Lightfoot Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar; deputy chief of staff Kelsey Nulph; Pritzker chief of staff Anne Caprara; then Deputy Govs. Christian Mitchell and Andy Manar; President and CEO of World Business Chicago Michael Fassnacht; Choose Chicago CEO Lynn Osmond; United Center COO Terry Savarise; and from Magnify Strategies, the company overseeing and coordinating the bid, CEO Kaitlin Fahey and founding partner Leah Israel.

Republicans will hold their 2024 convention in Milwaukee. Democrats picked Milwaukee as the site of the 2020 convention, but most events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If the Democratic convention in Milwaukee had taken place, delegates would have been housed in hotels near O’Hare Airport and Lake County because of a shortage of hotel rooms in that city.

Atlanta’s convention argument focused on its important history in the civil rights movement and its status as a swing state sending two Democratic senators to Washington.

But Chicago and New York slammed Atlanta because Georgia is a right-to-work state and has only two union hotels. Organized labor and union voters are an important part of the Democratic base.

Chicago holds the record for most conventions

Chicago holds the record for hosting the most political conventions.

Between 1832 and 2020, Chicago hosted 25 conventions — 11 Democratic and 14 Republican, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Chicago last hosted a convention in 1996, when the Democrats met at the United Center to re-nominate President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for a second term.

Though four cities submitted bids for the 1996 event — Chicago, New York, San Antonio and New Orleans — Chicago put up the biggest package, valued at $32 million.

Chicago was the 1996 front-runner from the start. The Democratic National Committee chairman, David Wilhelm, was a Chicagoan. First lady Hillary Clinton was born in Chicago and raised in Park Ridge. Clinton was friendly with Bill Daley, brother of Mayor Richard M. Daley, and was grateful for Illinois political support in the 1992 Democratic primary.

In 1996, a bipartisan city-state Chicago host committee raised millions for the Democratic convention, with Republican business leaders part of the committee.

The well-received 1996 convention was a contrast to the one before it, the infamous 1968 Democratic convention at the old International Amphitheatre. The arena at 4220 S. Halsted St. was torn down in 1999.

Many delegates were housed at downtown hotels, and violent clashes between anti-Vietnam War protesters and police in Lincoln and Grant parks scarred the city’s reputation for years. The “Battle of Michigan Avenue” took place in Grant Park across from the hotel now called the Hilton Hotel and Towers, 720 S. Michigan Ave., then known as the Conrad Hilton Hotel.

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