EDITORIAL: Party conventions not an easy call

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In late April, there was a dust-up over the city’s decision not to bid on the 2016 Democratic National Convention. City and convention officials said it was a practical decision based in part on an already stacked 2016 calendar.

Predictably, the leaders of the local Democratic Party cried foul, claiming the decision was a political play by the city’s Republican administration.

Groundless, knee-jerk statements are what we’ve come to expect from political pros on both sides of the aisle. This one was no different. In fact, the city had earlier withdrawn from any consideration of hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention. Why? Because regardless of which party’s convention is up for grabs, there are legitimate questions about the wisdom of dedicating time and money to such an effort.

Count us among those who are skeptical the attendance and media exposure the big political parties draw are worth the cost.

It’s hard to disregard the benefit of bringing 50,000 delegates to the city, some of whom would be first-time visitors, and having them fill the city’s hotel rooms and patronize local eating and drinking establishments. But that’s the biggest thing the political conventions have going for them.

The mainstream media exposure the conventions receive isn’t what it used to be. The major television networks at one time offered gavel-to-gavel coverage. That was back when party platforms were hammered out at the conventions and presidential nominees weren’t foregone conclusions. In the 1980s, when the political parties began turning their conventions into made-for-TV spectacles, the TV news teams started trimming their coverage. Now political junkies can get their convention fix on social media.

Then there are the costs.

For starters, both parties require that the city’s convention facilities be shut down for 12 weeks to allow for set-up and tear-down. That’s almost a quarter of a year, entirely too long to have our marquee facilities sit vacant.

Another big drawback to hosting is the $55 million to $60 million the political parties require the host city to raise. That’s twice what city businesses committed to the city’s recent Super Bowl bid. And unlike the money pledged to host a Super Bowl, an event the entire city can rally around, the money that goes toward a political convention supports an event that is more likely to divide local residents.

Whether it’s $30 million for a Super Bowl or $60 million for a political convention, the fact that such large sums can be raised to host a one-time event gives heartburn to those who struggle on a daily basis to raise modest sums for causes that seem far more worthy. At least the National Football League put its muscle behind redevelopment of the East 10th Street corridor when the city hosted Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. Would a political convention leave a lasting legacy?

The gatherings, which sometimes spawn large protests, some of them violent, also come with huge security costs.

We’re not urging the city to flatly reject the idea of hosting either party in 2020. But officials need to carefully compare costs and benefits. And if they say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” they’ll get no argument from us.•


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