Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia: 25 Years In The Making

As we enter this last day of an incredible Democratic National Convention, I want to thank the Democratic National Committee for choosing Philadelphia as the Host City for the 2016 Convention. I also want to acknowledge the other great cities who sought the DNC bid which was a great and very fair competition. Philadelphia won because of many years of hard work, focus and dedication by many Philadelphians and people in the Philadelphia region. I want to tell the story of some of those great people and how the DNC came back to Philadelphia after being away from our historic city since 1948.

Philadelphia hosted the RNC in 2000, because of the hard work and regional efforts of then Mayor Ed Rendell, and the host Mayor John Street, his successor. It was a very well conducted Convention in terms of the City’s role. For me though, the real thought of having the DNC in Philadelphia began about 25 years ago. I was an active member of Americans for Democratic Action, but I was looking for even more engagement with practical progressive policy ideas. That interest led me to seek involvement with the Democratic Leadership Council, and ultimately to learn a great deal about a relatively unknown Governor of Arkansas, William Jefferson Clinton. I also met him once briefly back at that time, continued to listen to his political ideas, and then I ran for a Delegate position in support of his Presidential bid in 1992, the same year I became a Philadelphia City Councilman.

I attended my first DNC in New York City in 1992, and it was just fascinating. What an experience to participate in launching our nominee to become President of the United States of America! I pledged to myself then, that if I ever had an opportunity to help bring the DNC to Philadelphia, I would do all that I could to make it happen. As they say, the rest is history. But, there is more to this story.

Since I came into office as Mayor in 2008, the first Convention that we could bid for was the 2012 Convention. That process really starts seriously about 2 years before the actual Convention, so we were in active discussions in 2010 with Gov. Rendell, Congressman Bob Brady, Comcast Executive David L. Cohen and many others. As Mayor, my main focus at the time was running a City still suffering from the overwhelming impact of the economic recession, and so the decision to pursue a national convention was a tough one. We all talked a great deal about whether to bid or not, but as Mayor, it was left to me to make the final call. I decided that it was more prudent for us as a City to stay focused on economic recovery and not pursue the 2012 Convention. It was a controversial decision, but I think it was the right one for Philadelphia in 2010, given our fiscal challenges, school funding issues and the amount of effort it takes to aggressively bid for a Convention. But, I also wrote a letter to the then Democratic Party Chair Tim Kaine stating that Philadelphia would be first in line to bid for the 2016 DNC Convention. I was also anticipating from a strategic standpoint that more than likely, Hillary Clinton would probably be a candidate again in 2016 and I thought it would be great for us to be the Host City for that Convention. And so, even earlier than normal, Philadelphia quietly started the preparations for gradually bringing together a great Host Committee with Council President Clarke and other Elected Officials, Dan Hilferty and many Business Leaders, John Dougherty and the Union Leaders, Rev. Terrence Griffith and the Clergy Community, Community Activists and our great Hospitality Community.

On the City government side, I was fortunate to have the finest public servants anywhere involved in this effort, and there were many. In particular though, I identified and empowered four key individuals for this effort. Chief of Staff Everett Gillison, City Representative Desiree Peterkin-Bell, Big Events Director Melanie Johnson and Deputy Managing Director Jazelle Jones. I asked City Representative Desiree Peterkin-Bell to be the project lead, write the bid document in coordination with the Philadelphia Host Committee, gather the needed logistical details and liaison with a myriad of public and private sector stakeholders. The City team and Ed Rendell’s Host Committee demonstrated to the DNC Site Selection Committee appointed by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz why Philadelphia would be the best choice for 2016 — experience, security, logistics, fundraising, hotel room proximity, the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the dynamic Wells Fargo Center.

Philadelphia has made so much important history in the story of America — the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Liberty Bell and so much more. We broke down another barrier when the first woman in American history was nominated for President by a national party, and as a Democrat, of course it is my hope that our historic Convention will launch our candidate to become the 1st woman and 45th President of the United States.

Twenty five years ago, I just wanted Philadelphia to be able to host the DNC, but even I never anticipated that it would become so much more! As we anticipate an historical speech tonight from Hillary Clinton, I want to thank the DNC and all of the Delegates, Democrats, Progressives, concerned citizens and media for coming to Philadelphia, one of the great cities of America, and the world. We’ve been waiting for you for a long time, and cannot wait until you return! Thanks for choosing Philadelphia, we’ve made history again.

Michael A. Nutter was Mayor of Philadelphia from Jan, 2008 to Jan, 2016