WASHINGTON – Hotels, money, Comcast executive David L. Cohen, and maybe some special treatment at the Liberty Bell all helped Philadelphia get over the top to win the right to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention, city and party leaders said Thursday afternoon.
"The role of Philadelphia in shaping our nation's history is unmatched," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee. "But what's also unmatched is the comprehensive proposal" the city put together.
The three finalists to host the convention -- Philadephia, New York and Columbus, Ohio -- were judged on logistics, security and resources to host the gathering that Democrats hope will serve as an energizing springboard to the 2016 presidential race, Wasserman Schultz said on an afternoon conference call with reporters.
Philadelphia presented the best combination of all three – though the proximity of thousands of hotel rooms to the Wells Fargo Center and sports complex were among its biggest draws, she said.
"Philadelphia's strength in particular was the proximity of their arena and venues to the hotel rooms," Wasserman Schultz said. "When it comes to putting on a convention, delegate experience was a very, very important thing for us."
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell noted that during the 2000 Republican National Convention in the city, Broad Street was changed to a one-way street for parts of the day, making it easy to shuttle delegates to and from the sports arenas.
Rendell said questions about raising money were the toughest for Philadelphia to overcome.
"They held our feet to the fire on all the different elements," he said on the call. "The one that was the most tense was: could we raise the money to run a successful convention?"
The city's backers pledged to raise $84 million for the convention, and has put $5 million in the bank and received another $12 million in commitments, he said. Rendell said Gov. Wolf has also made commitments to supply some state funding to help.
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), the city's Democratic chairman, was widely praised as the man to first push to host the convention, rallying city leaders around the idea.
The city also enlisted Cohen – Rendell's chief of staff when he was mayor -- and a visit to the Liberty Bell to help.
Mayor Nutter said Cohen agreed to serve as a senior advisor for the convention committee, "which is a huge boost given who David is not only here locally, but nationally." In particular, he mentioned Cohen's ties to "President Obama directly." (Cohen is a longtime fundraiser for Obama, has hosted the president at his home several times and is a familiar face at the White House).
By the time Philadelphia hosted the 2000 GOP convention, Rendell said, he had left the mayor's office to lead the Democratic National Committee*, so Cohen was the city's point man on the last six months of preparation. "He's a wealth of leadership and experience."
Rendell, in describing the efforts to win the convention, told of an after-hours visit to the Liberty Bell, where he said Wasserman Schultz was allowed to touch the iconic symbol (with a glove on).
She called it "an absolutely incredible experience" but said the focus was on the three criteria.
"It's primarily a business decision for us," she said.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), in a separate interview, noted that the city hosted the 2000 GOP convention, will host a visit from the pope this fall and next year (he hopes) will introduce the next president at the Democratic convention. "It's a tremendous moment for the city," Fattah said.
He and others also highlighted the city's history in American democracy.
On the conference call Nutter said, "As the city that got to host the first serious convention for the United States of America, we've been doing this pretty well."
*This post was corrected from an earlier version that misstated Rendell's position in 2000.