Wining and dining the DNC

When cities vie to host a convention, it's the Party insiders who win

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It's little wonder that seats on the site selection committees that choose the venue for presidential nominating conventions are coveted. After all, the members spend a summer being treated to the best a handful of American cities have to offer.

In 2000, then Democratic National Committee chief of staff Rod O’Connor, now the current CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, told Los Angeles Magazine that getting a post on the committee is “somewhat of a reward for longtime Democratic supporters.” Neither officials from the DNC nor the DNCC would comment on the Site Selection Committee process.

Here’s a rundown of some of the largesse showered on members of the site selection committee by cities that sought but failed to land the 2004 Democratic convention:

Detroit’s site selection tour

When Detroit officials made their pitch to host the 2004 Democratic convention, they emphasized the city’s urban renewal projects, hoping that their working class image would help their chances of getting the convention. Highlights of the Detroit tour included:

  • A catered buffet at the Manoogian Mansion catered by Opus One that included “smoked Norwegian salmon, spicy cashew chicken, grilled tenderloin of beef and garlic-grilled jumbo shrimp,” followed by crepes flambé served during a Detroit River cruise on a yacht, according to The Detroit Free Press.
  • Tours of Cobo Hall/Joe Louis Arena and Ford Field, potential convention sites.
  • A “multi-ethnic lunch” at the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, including quesadillas, Caribbean jerk chicken, pasta, Thai peanut chicken on skewers, hummus, tabbouleh and pita bread, The Detroit Free-Press reported.
  • A red carpet night at the Fox Theatre, including a buffet with serving stations featuring musical themes. (“The focus is on fun and good food,” Renee Monforton, spokeswoman for the Detroit Visitors and Convention Bureau told the press.)
  • A breakfast at the Eagle Tavern at Greenfield Village, where costumed performers served the committee members blueberry-stuffed French toast.
  • A breakfast of eggs, meat and potatoes with union leaders at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in Detroit.
  • Among the items the committee members were given by the Detroit organizers was a silver construction helmet with the Detroit Lions logo.

New York City’s site selection tour

“In search of a lift for the city’s sinking economy and morale, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is staging an extraordinarily lavish series of events designed to persuade Democratic National Committee officials to bring their 2004 convention to New York,” wrote New York Observer reporter Greg Sargent in July 2002.

Included on New York’s itinerary, according to Associated Press, Boston Globe and New York Observer press accounts:

  • Dinner catered by four of the city’s famous eateries: Nobu, Union Square Café, Tribeca Grill and Tabia.
  • A narrated bus tour of New York with a documentary film maker.
  • Lunch at the New York Stock Exchange.
  • Dinner at the Rainbow Room followed by drinks on a rooftop garden on Rockefeller Center.
  • Breakfast at Mayor Bloomberg’s mansion on the Upper East Side.
  • A tour of Madison Square Garden, featuring a video of New York politicians, including an interview with former President Bill Clinton, images of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, and a personal appeal by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo who said, “Out of the chaos, anger and fear of 9/11, a distinctive impulse to come together, lock arms, and join the struggle against this frightening evil immediately brought the city – and the whole nation with it – together in a way many Americans had never before witnessed.” Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” tune was featured prominently.
  • A trip to Times Square Studios, where Good Morning America is broadcast, where Bloomberg, Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer met delegates. Celebrity chef Danny Meyer and Drew Nieporent served food.
  • Breakfast in the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where local labor leaders were in attendance.

Miami’s site selection tour

Miami-Dade officials brought members of the Democratic site selection committee to city and county hot spots in mid-July 2002. According to the Democracy in Action web site (no press reports could be found on the tour), Miami officials treated the Democrats to the following:

  • Welcoming reception at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami, a performing arts center.
  • A “Night Owl” club tour.
  • Breakfast at the Chivas Regal Club in Miami.
  • Lunch at Bongo’s Cuban Café.
  • A helicopter tour of the city.
  • A tour of American Airlines arena.
  • A reception at the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza
  • Dinner at the Loews Miami Beach-Gaucho Room.
  • Late night clubbing in South Beach.
  • Breakfast at the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens.

Alejandro Miyar, press spokesman for the Miami mayor’s office said, “The city spent no money” on the 2004 bid process, and that, “the staff worked with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. We worked on it, but it was labor.”

Attempts to contact the Visitors’ Bureau by phone and e-mail went unanswered.

Of the Miami bid, The Boston Globe reported in late 2002 that, “There was almost universal opinion among DNC staff that Miami had done little to support its bid since the site visit last summer.”

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