Originally published Nov 7, 2018
Editor’s note: The news this week that Milwaukee has indeed landed the 2020 Democratic National Convention got us thinking again about our interview in the November issue with Bucks executive and DNC campaign spearhead Alex Lasry. He addresses why Milwaukee would be perfect for the DNC, as well as some of the criticisms of the host city pick that have emerged this week.
Alex Lasry arrived in Milwaukee from New York City four years ago after his father, billionaire investor Marc Lasry, became co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, having purchased the team from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl. The younger Lasry is, at age 31, making a name for himself, serving as senior vice president of the Bucks and chairman of a committee aggressively working to lure the 2020 Democratic National Convention to Milwaukee.
The city is competing against Houston and Miami Beach for the convention, which organizers expect would attract 50,000 attendees, fill 15,000 hotel rooms and have an economic impact estimated at about $200 million. The committee is raising up to $1 million for the bid process. If Milwaukee is selected, as much as $70 million would be needed to stage the event.
Lasry recently spoke about the bid, politics and the Bucks at the team’s bustling office in Schlitz Park near Downtown Milwaukee.
MilMag: How does the $524 million new home of the Bucks fit into the DNC bid?
Lasry: Fiserv Forum is the crown jewel of the pitch. It’s where all the major convention activities will be. It’s, by far, the best arena in the country. We didn’t build the arena just for basketball. We built it with the idea that a major convention will want to come here.
What made you get involved in this effort and take a leadership role?
Milwaukee is this well-kept secret. It’s time to put Milwaukee on the map. What better way to do it than with a major political convention where 50,000 people will come and it will be on TV for four straight days? I’m a Democrat, a proud one, but this bid itself is not partisan. Milwaukee is ready to be center stage. We’re ready to be out front and we know that when you come here you will love it.
Did you get the feeling that most of the selection committee members hadn’t visited Milwaukee before?
We knew that some of them hadn’t. For some of them, it had been a while. I think, like with most smaller cities, they had some preconceived notions about Milwaukee and what a city like Milwaukee should look like and I think they were blown away. We don’t want to be known as a best-kept secret. We want people to know that Milwaukee is a destination city. I think they saw that.
Is Milwaukee’s ability to carry out Summerfest every year, and other events like the recent Harley-Davidson anniversary proof that it could handle something as big as the convention?
Summerfest, Northwestern Mutual’s annual convention, all of the golf events – the Ryder Cup, PGA Championship, U.S. Open – we’ve been able to put on big events in Wisconsin and Milwaukee pretty flawlessly.
“We want people to know that Milwaukee is a destination city.”
Are you getting any blowback from people who don’t like mixing sports and politics?
This is a citizen Lasry project, not a Bucks project. The business community, from all sides, has been in favor of this and sees this as a major economic driver. Are there partisan aspects of it? Sure. But what everyone sees is the opportunity that this would be for the city.
Why did you get Bucks and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar involved in the bid effort?
Kareem spoke really eloquently at the DNC in 2016. He’s become more outspoken and passionate about issues that matter. It also shows that Milwaukee has celebrities and a little bit of razzle-dazzle. Plus, Kareem just cares about the city.
Do you have any political aspirations of your own?
When I think of political aspirations, I also think of working in government. That’s something I’ve done in the Obama administration. I don’t think of myself as done with politics. I was involved in Hillary Clinton’s campaign and I’m sure I’ll be involved in the 2020 campaign at some level. I enjoy being politically active, but with my position with the Bucks and all we are doing in the arena district, I have the ability to make change. There’s a lot left for me to do there.
Do you see yourself running for political office?
I really see myself as a staffer, because I’ve done that before. I’m enjoying where I am right now, working for a sports team. It’s like every 10-year-old’s dream. I’m never going to say never on anything, but it’s not something I’ve given serious thought to.
What are your expectations for the Bucks this season?
The goal will be 50-plus wins and to win a playoff series. Our team is a lot deeper. Bringing in Bud (new head coach Mike Budenholzer) is going to help take our team to the next level. Giannis (Antetokounmpo) is a year older and a year stronger; he’ll be in the conversation for MVP. Khris (Middleton) is going to be in the conversation for being an All-Star.
You are active on social media and have gotten into heated exchanges with Bucks fans. Do you have to rein that in?
I wear my emotions on my sleeve. That sometimes gets me into trouble. Sometimes I say something then I think, “Should I have thought about that?” I look at it as a great way to talk to fans, but sometimes it gets a little heated. But that’s no different than when I’m talking to my brother. The conversation gets a little heated and then you hug it out. I look at all the fans as all one family. As long as the debate and the tone is respectful, it can get a little feisty and lively. I’m an executive of the team, but I’m a fan first, and just as passionate about the team as everyone else.