Mayor Bill de Blasio made an unconventional and intriguing choice in proposing that the 2016 Democratic National Convention be held in Brooklyn's Barclays Center. It's unconventional, not because Barclays Center was offered but because Madison Square Garden was not offered as well. (Typically mayors propose all of the possible venues in their cities and let the political party express its preference.) It's intriguing, because the city's proposal becomes a political statement that will be fascinating to watch unfold and because it makes the logistics of the city's hosting effort more crucial than ever.
Having served as CEO of New York City's last hosting of a Democratic National Convention in 1992, I know well how important those logistics are and what an extraordinary economic opportunity the hosting of a national political convention can become. New York City's hosting of the 1992 Convention created a lasting legacy - giving birth to both Restaurant Week and Fashion Week. That legacy has generated billions of dollars of economic activity and continues to promote the city to this day.
Fortunately, Mayor de Blasio knows that, too, having served as an aide in the Dinkins Administration and having been involved in the 1992 hosting effort. He has already made clear that the hosting of the 2016 Convention would include welcoming events for delegates in all five boroughs - a hallmark of the 1992 hosting as well. Other defining elements of the 2016 hosting would typically emerge closer to the event.
By offering Barclays Center as the principal venue, Mayor de Blasio made a bold political statement - both to his Brooklyn base and to the Democratic Party. He said, in effect, we're offering the party the opportunity to hold its convention in the heart of progressive America. In his letter to the Democratic Party accompanying the bid, he stated specifically: "The progressive spirit of New York City has never been stronger or more vibrant than it is today... We believe that this spirit can energize and captivate both the Democratic Party and the nation."
That decision makes New York City an immediate front-runner, which it arguably would have been in any case, but it also puts the Mayor in a particularly powerful position within the party. New York City's bid now has pronounced political implications, not just general geographic ones, and those will have to be dealt with carefully.
On Saturday, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced that six cities have submitted bids to host the 2016 Convention: Birmingham, Cleveland, Columbus, New York, Philadelphia and Phoenix. She added, "Over the coming months, convention bids will be evaluated by a Technical Advisory Committee, including site visits and other inquiries." A final decision will be announced in late 2014 or early 2015.
The process of selecting a host city typically reflects three primary considerations: geography and its political symbolism; personal relationships with local leaders and resulting confidence that the city will meet its commitments including fundraising for the event; and, logistics including the hotel and transportation infrastructure as well as the planned hospitality for Convention participants. Logistics are key, because they define the experience that delegates will have at the Convention and because they are often the excuse that is used for not selecting a particular city.
Logistics will be especially important in the case of New York, because transportation between Barclays Center and midtown Manhattan, where most of the convention hotels are located, will be an inevitable concern. Brooklyn has 3,500 hotel rooms - approximately 10 percent of the Convention's expected participants.
Fortunately, Barclays Center is served by nine subway lines as well as the Long Island Rail Road, which means that access to the site from across the city and the region is easy. The city will, of course, need to provide more special treatment of delegates than that - through designated subway cars or buses at key times - and that will be a focus of the Technical Advisory Committee. But in many other cities simply getting from hotels to the convention site can be a far greater obstacle, given the number of people involved. With nine subway lines to work with, New York will have some flexibility in making creative arrangements.
New York City - and Brooklyn specifically - has an excellent case to make in the crucial upcoming site visits. The fact that the city's hosting of the 1992 Democratic National Convention is the gold standard in terms of lasting economic impact for any political convention is also a significant advantage. What could be more progressive than to turn the hosting of a short-term event into a legacy that continues to produce lasting economic opportunity for the city?
The author is Chief Operating Officer of Goodman Media International, the New York City-based public relations firm.