Miami Beach

Democrats will visit Miami-Dade during Art Basel to assess 2020 convention bid

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez is visiting Miami-Dade on Friday to evaluate the county’s bid to host the 2020 national convention, a trip timed to coincide with Art Basel.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, co-chair of the local host committee created to raise money for the convention, said the bidding team wants Perez to see Miami and Miami Beach at one of the busiest times of the year.

“He’s going to actually see the city function during a huge international week-long event,” said Levine, a Democrat who ran in Florida’s gubernatorial primary this year.

The committee hopes to show off the planning and coordination that has gone into hosting thousands of visitors during Art Week — including shuttling art enthusiasts on trolleys from Wynwood to South Beach and a joint policing effort across municipal boundaries. Proving that there is strong collaboration among multiple local governments is key, Levine said.

Perez’s hosts plan to take him to the art fair at Miami Beach’s newly renovated convention center, where caucus meetings would likely be held during the convention. They’ll wine and dine him at Joe’s Stone Crab, Levine said, and at a private dinner at the home of Paul Cejas, a noted Democratic fundraiser and former U.S. ambassador to Belgium under former President Bill Clinton. Perez will also visit the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami, where organizers have proposed holding speeches and voting to select the Democratic nominee. The cities of Miami and Miami Beach have teamed up with Miami-Dade County in a joint bid to host the convention.

But South Florida faces tough competition from Milwaukee and Houston, the other finalists. Perez visited Milwaukee on Monday and is scheduled to visit Houston next week. He said he plans to make a decision early next year.

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Miami-Dade leaders tout the county’s bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. The head of the DNC site selection committee, Jess O’Connell, far right, gets the sales pitch from Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, center, appearing with other mayors and commissioners in Miami’s Design District. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Perez said that all three cities are serious contenders. “We would not waste anybody’s time unless everybody was still a viable candidate for selection,” he said.

Perez cited Miami’s experience hosting major events as one of the city’s assets, along with the enthusiasm of the would-be hosts, the newly renovated convention center and the area’s diversity.

He also addressed concerns that weather could hamper Miami-Dade’s chances. The 2020 convention is scheduled for July 13-16, which is during hurricane season. The DNC chairman said that while he’s considered the threat of a major storm, he’s looked at data that shows hurricanes tend to hit South Florida later in the year.

Tropical Storm Isaac disrupted the start of the Republicans’ convention in Tampa the last week of August 2012.

“We look at every factor and I’ve certainly looked at hurricanes over the last 50 years and I believe that there’s a difference between having a convention in the middle of July and having a convention over Labor Day,” he said.

Tropical weather also poses a threat in Houston, although typically later than mid-July. When Hurricane Harvey struck Texas last year, the storm made landfall in late August.

Political considerations will also likely influence the decision. As a populous swing state with 29 electoral votes, Florida could appeal to Democrats as a launching pad in their bid to take back the White House. While Democrats lost a Senate seat in Florida during the midterms and failed to win the governor’s mansion, they also flipped two Republican-held House seats representing South Florida. Perez said he was “very excited with the progress” Democrats made in Florida, including the passage of Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for most felons who have completed their sentences.

“Florida continues to be an important swing state in electoral politics and it’s a state where I believe Democrats can compete,” he said.

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Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez, pictured here at a protest in Lafayette Square outside the White House on March 6, 2017, is visiting Miami-Dade this week to evaluate the county’s bid to host the party’s 2020 convention. Andrew Harnik AP

Democrats also had a strong midterm showing in Texas, where Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke garnered national attention for putting up a tough fight in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Milwaukee could be the most appealing to Democrats for political reasons, however. Democrats failed to win the support of white, working-class voters in the Midwest during the 2016 presidential election, losing Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio to Donald Trump. (Perez also has personal ties to Wisconsin: his wife grew up there and the couple married in Milwaukee. He said that connection won’t factor into his decision, however.)

This is the second round of trips Democrats have made to the potential host cities. A site selection committee toured the finalists in the fall to evaluate a range of logistical factors, including hotel accommodations, security, transportation and venues.

Perez said that his decision will ultimately come down to which city is best equipped to ensure a successful convention.

“I think the threshold factor is which city has the best capacity to put on a convention that will achieve the purpose and the purpose is to spotlight our standard bearer and to engender excitement about our standard bearer and to enable us to hit the ground running as we hit the general election campaign,” he said.

The convention would bring more than 30,000 visitors to the Miami area and could cost $50 million or more. Local officials have stressed that they would not spend taxpayer dollars, relying instead on the host committee to raise funds from private contributions. Organizers also expect to get a federal grant to cover security costs. Levine said he’s confident that South Florida’s donor base could support the convention.

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Protesters outside the 1972 Republican National Convention march with an elephant down Meridian Avenue in Miami Beach. Miami Herald Collection, HistoryMiami Museum

Although costly, political conventions put the host city in the national spotlight and can represent an economic windfall for local businesses. The 2016 Democratic National Convention generated $230 million in economic benefits for Philadelphia, according to estimates from the local convention and visitors bureau.

This would be Miami-Dade’s first major political convention in nearly 50 years. The last time Miami Beach hosted a national political convention, in 1972, anti-war protesters outside the Republican National Convention clashed with police and delegates. Afterward, the mayor vowed that the city would never again invite a political party to host its convention on the island.

Despite that history, it was Miami Beach that first proposed the idea of hosting the 2020 convention. Officials in Miami and Miami-Dade, which are led by Republican mayors, enthusiastically joined the bid. After the finalist cities were announced in June, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a Democrat, flew to Washington to promote the region.

To Levine, the former mayor of one of South Florida’s tourism magnets, the pitch is pretty simple.

“If you want to brew beer, go to Milwaukee. If you wanna refine oil, go to Houston. If you want to throw a party, go to Miami,” he said. “That’s our core competency.”

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