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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Not the right time for Democratic National Convention

It is gratifying the Democratic Party wants Tampa to bid on its 2016 convention, and it underscores the value of Tampa hosting the 2012 Republican National Convention.

But Mayor Bob Buckhorn is correct to turn down the invitation. It could easily turn into a financial disaster.

Host cities must raise $50 million or more in private funds, a tall order any time but particularly when a community has just hosted such a major event.

And as Buckhorn points out, Democratic Party rules prohibit corporate money being used for a convention, making the task even more daunting.

That was one reason the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., badly missed its $35.6 million fundraising target, leaving Duke Energy on the hook for a $10 million line of credit it guaranteed the event.

This contrasted markedly with the Tampa Bay Host Committee’s success. It raised more than $55 million in private contributions and had money left over to give to local charities.

The Democrats, of course, could drop the corporate ban, which was a requirement of President Obama’s re-election campaign.

But even if they did, there doesn’t look to be any major local Democratic fundraisers ready to lead the charge.

In fact, there had been no local campaign for the DNC until the party asked the city to make a bid.

In contrast, local Republican powerhouses such as Al Austin eagerly pursued the GOP convention and aggressively raised money for it once it was awarded to Tampa.

The benefits of hosting a convention, which brings international attention, would undoubtedly generate some nonpartisan support.

But without the energy and drive that accompanied the RNC effort, the fundraising campaign would be destined to fail.

The party’s pro-union bias also could make it difficult for Tampa to be chosen. Most of Tampa’s hotel workers are non-union, while the party in the past has sought facilities with union workers.

Another concern is asking local officials to take on the complicated preparations required for a convention so soon after the RNC.

Law enforcement and other public officials executed their responsibilities with remarkable efficiency and probably would be even better prepared this time.

But the logistics and staffing demands of a national convention, which attracts 50,000 people, do put a strain on local resources. Couple that burden with highly uncertain funding and the convention could end up being more of a distraction than a prize.

Tampa showed it can successfully host a major political convention with the RNC, and the experience paid off. An analyst by the University of Tampa found it had an economic impact of $404 million.

The attention it generated helped Tampa land the International Indian Film Academy’s 15th annual Weekend and Awards in April. The “Bollywood” Oscars are expected to attract 30,000 visitors and 900 million TV viewers around the world.

The Democratic Party is smart to want Tampa on its list. But successfully hosting a convention requires more than an invitation. It requires an energetic and enterprising team ready to build the necessary support.

Buckhorn is wise to pass this time.

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