WASHINGTON – Democrats selected Denver to host their 2008 presidential convention, turning down New York in favor of a problematic but enthusiastic bid from a city in the growing Rocky Mountain West.
"There is no question that the West is important to the future of the Democratic Party," Democratic Chairman Howard Dean said in a statement Thursday. "The recent Democratic gains in the West exemplify the principle that when we show up and ask for people's votes and talk about what we stand for, we can win in any part of the country."
Denver mounted a spirited effort to win the convention, organizing a sophisticated public relations campaign and enlisting help from Democratic lawmakers throughout the West. But the bid was fraught with logistical problems, among them a lack of close-in hotel rooms, its ability to raise the necessary $55 million to run the convention and serious labor concerns.
The city's bid was nearly scuttled last month when the influential stagehands union refused to agree not to strike if the convention was held at the nonunion Pepsi Center.
In the end, Dean enlisted the help of labor leaders in Washington, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. A compromise was reached to staff the Pepsi Center entirely with union labor for the duration of the convention, effectively taking the last major obstacle off the table.
"We are very, very excited — it's a tremendous team effort by everybody in Denver. And we're going to put on the best convention the Democrats have ever had," said Debbie Willhite, director of Denver's Host Committee.
New York, for its part, had eagerly sought the convention for months, but its mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said in recent weeks he would not commit the city to underwrite the convention's costs.
Several members of Congress urged Dean to choose Denver to help cement recent Democratic victories in the Republican-leaning West. Since 2002, Democrats have won GOP-held governorships in Colorado and six other Western states, and in November, Democrats picked up a Republican-held Senate seat in Montana and GOP-held House seats in Colorado and Arizona.
The convention — which is expected to attract 35,000, including 4,950 delegates and alternates — will be held from Aug. 25-28 after the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
The Republican National Convention will start just 4 days later, on Sept. 1 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
In November 2005, the Democratic National Committee invited 35 cities to apply to host the convention. Eleven cities eventually submitted applications, but only three were selected as finalists — Denver, New York and Minneapolis-St. Paul, which withdrew its bid this fall after it was selected to host the GOP convention.
Denver last hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1908, when Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska in his third unsuccessful effort as the party's standard-bearer.