Here’s What’s Left of the DNC in MKE

There will be little celebration of what was once a wide-scale national event in MIlwaukee. The parties that do happen, will be entirely local.

Milwaukee had been counting on reaping the economic benefits and the worldwide attention that comes with hosting a major political convention. 

Now, the city and region are left reeling by the Democratic National Convention’s decision to make the event almost exclusively virtual due to ongoing concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

This means that Joe Biden won’t be traveling to Milwaukee to give his presidential acceptance speech during what was already going to be a significantly scaled-down convention running Aug. 17-20. 

No other speakers will be coming to Milwaukee either, including Biden’s presumptive vice-presidential choice.

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Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in a video conference with reporters Wednesday afternoon that the DNC leadership team decided late Tuesday night that Biden and others wouldn’t be delivering speeches in Milwaukee.

As many as 50,000 people had been expected to travel to the Milwaukee area for the convention until the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on those plans over the past several weeks. 

“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’m very, very disappointed in this professionally and personally,” Barrett said. “We’ve all had so much pride in having Milwaukee chosen to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention.”

It would have been the first time a Wisconsin city would have hosted a major national political party convention.

“I was proud of that because I wanted to show off our city. I wanted the world to know Milwaukee’s story,” Barrett said. “I wanted local businesses to enjoy an economic boost. Obviously, those opportunities aren’t going to occur.”

Despite the disappointing decision, Barrett said the city and its residents should be proud that we had been chosen to “host an event on the grandest scale.”

He said hopes of an in-person convention had become “a victim of the COVID-19 crisis.”

“I think all of us have to keep this in perspective,” Barrett said. “We can’t forget the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic.”

Barrett noted that more than 155,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and more than four million have been sickened by the virus. In addition, countless people have lost their jobs and many families are in jeopardy of losing their homes.

“As disappointed as I am that we cannot show off the city, our priorities have to be on helping people get their lives back in order,” he said.

What about Milwaukee’s chances of landing another major political convention in 2024?

“Whoa,” he said. “We are focused on getting the economy back on track and solving the public health challenges and dealing with the racial challenges. That’s where our focus has to be. We live to fight another day.”

The Democratic National Convention Committee decided that none of the key players would appear in Milwaukee after ongoing consultation with public health officials and experts, who have underscored the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

“From the very beginning of this pandemic, we put the health and safety of the American people first. We followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and we continued making adjustments to our plans in order to protect lives,” DNC chairman Tom Perez said.  

Democrats will offer four nights of programming, which will include a mix of both pre-recorded segments and live broadcasts from locations across the country.

This year will “always be remembered as a year of once-in-a-lifetime challenges and changes – but it will also be remembered as a time when Americans were their most compassionate and resilient selves, said Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

While we wish we could move forward with welcoming the world to beautiful Milwaukee in two weeks, we recognize protecting the health of our host community and everyone involved with this convention must be paramount,” Solmonese said.

The convention will air for two hours each of the four nights. A custom virtual video control room, which reportedly will be located in Milwaukee, is being designed to take in hundreds of feeds from around the country.

Milwaukee Magazine reached out to CEO of the Wisconsin Center District Marty Brooks to ask what events are still scheduled to take place at the Wisconsin Center – where the DNC was moved to from the Fiserv Forum –  during the days of the convention. In a statement, he did not provide any specific plan, but said he supports the decision that “acts in the best interest of the health and well-being of all involved.”

“Our great city has worked hard to accept reimagining the 2020 DNC we envisioned a few short months ago, so today’s news was hard to hear,” Brooks said. “I feel confident that the Wisconsin Center’s support of the client through such challenging decision-making is the best way to showcase our commitment to being bold, proud, and experience obsessed, no matter the circumstances.”

Barrett said it’s likely that there will still be some events in Milwaukee during the run of the DNC, but they are certain to be “100 percent local.”

Milwaukee also has likely lost its attractiveness as a target for various protest groups seeking a national stage.

“The reality is now that we are not going to have the media presence that we had once hoped for, we aren’t going to have elected officials from around the nation and around the world being here, so I would not be surprised if we have a lot fewer demonstrations. That’s my gut reaction,” Barrett said.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.