WASHINGTON – It wasn't long ago that cities were clamoring to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention, eager for the media attention and economic windfall such high-profile gatherings typically produce.
But Democrats now face a nearly intractable dilemma, choosing between Denver — whose bid is fraught with logistical and financial problems — and New York, whose billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has cooled to the convention and is refusing to underwrite its costs.
He reiterated his reluctance Friday, telling a radio audience: "We'd love to have them, but I can't commit the city to pay for a convention. "
With the party desperate to reclaim the White House after eight years of Republican rule, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean is under pressure to mount a glitch-free gathering that will showcase its presidential nominee.
Dean has repeatedly delayed a decision on the convention site to let each city refine its bid, but officials say neither has resolved the myriad problems that have forced Dean to postpone the selection. A decision was originally expected in December, but organizers say it's unlikely to come before mid-January.
"The DNC is continuing our negotiations with both cities to ensure that we have the best contract and the best convention possible," spokeswoman Stacie Paxton said.
The convention — which is expected to attract 35,000 people, including 4,950 delegates and alternates — will be held Aug. 25-28. The Republican National Convention will start just four days later, on Sept. 1 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
Dean and other Democratic officials have signaled a strong interest in bringing the convention to Denver, part of the fast-growing Rocky Mountain West. Long a Republican stronghold, the region has recently become more favorable to Democrats, who since 2002 have grabbed the governorships in Montana, Kansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Democrats also picked up Republican-held Senate seats in Colorado and Montana.
Denver, in turn, has been anxious to host the convention, but the bid has been plagued with labor problems, including the refusal of the influential stagehands union not to strike if the convention is held at the city's nonunion Pepsi Center. Recently, the stagehands have proposed moving the gathering to the convention center, a unionized venue organizers say is too small.
Leslie Moody of the Denver Labor Council said the problems could only be resolved through a joint effort by Denver's convention host committee and labor leaders locally and in Washington. Recently, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney phoned Moody to offer advice on resolving the matter.
"Labor has invested a lot in swinging this state in a Democratic direction," Moody said. "We feel we're being told that labor needs to roll over on this one, and that's not the way labor and the Democratic Party ought to interact."
Logistics and financial constraints also plague Denver's bid. The host committee needs to raise about $40 million to mount the convention, and has received commitments of only about $6 million so far. The city has a relatively small number of hotel rooms downtown, meaning thousands of attendees could be forced to travel from lodging in far-flung suburbs.
New York has plenty of money and hotel rooms, but top officials have shown a lack of enthusiasm. Bloomberg, who in August flew to a DNC meeting in Chicago to woo convention organizers, has since committed to other ambitious fundraising obligations, including $350 million for the World Trade Center memorial.
In 2004, Republicans chose New York for their convention, in part because Bloomberg — anxious to revitalize the city's tourism after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — guaranteed at least $85 million to help pay for it. On Friday, Bloomberg explained why he wouldn't make the same commitment.
"Today the hotels are full, the restaurants are doing well and the conventions don't bring the kind of economic activity they used to bring. And the city just can't afford to go on the hook," he said.
While New York is home to several influential Democrats, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, none has signaled a willingness to commit to convention fundraising. Clinton will be raising money for an expected 2008 presidential bid, and Schumer heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
New York does have a winning track record with Democrats. The last two Democrats to occupy the Oval Office were nominated at conventions in New York — Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992.
Denver last hosted the Democratic convention in 1908, when Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan in his third unsuccessful effort as the party's nominee.
Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler in New York contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APTV 01-05-07 1558EST