Is Milwaukee Really Equipped to Host the DNC?

The DNC is going to have a LOT on its mind and isn’t going to be particularly bothered with what a nice place we have.

According to Visit Milwaukee and the Democratic National Committee, Milwaukee has enough hotel rooms to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention, no matter the chill Nate Silver may have sent down your spine.

There’s sufficient food, clean water, oxygen, toilet paper, tiny bottles of shampoo and hand soap. The continental breakfasts, for the sad souls not attending party breakfasts, will overflow with lemon danishes and old bananas.

We Energies will bend in the wind but not break, along with Spectrum and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Blue-shirted Public Service Ambassadors will roam the streets with a wild look in their eyes, not knowing where to begin, and depending on just how crippled the city’s transportation network, there will be enough buses or not enough Ubers or the Streetcar(s) will sink into the ground.

Most of that won’t happen, of course, however prophetic the Journal Sentinel’s story forecasting convention mania may sound. Reporter Bill Glauber slices through most of the back-patting to ask David Gilbert, head of Cleveland’s RNC effort in 2016, whether the convention shut down that city, and the answer is even frostier than Silver:

“It all depends on how you define ‘shut down,'” he says. Not the most encouraging reply.

So far, the vast majority of local DNC coverage has been both rosy and uplifting. Mayor Tom Barrett has reveled in the success he badly needed after the Health Department and other slip-ups, and the DNC will likely fall in July 2020, a few months removed from the April 2020 mayoral election, just in case of a few snags. For everything to go as planned, or reasonably close, it’ll take everyone pulling together, according to Glauber’s story.

And so far, the to-do surrounding the announcement has echoed Milwaukee stereotypes — and stereotypes based on stereotypes. Local leaders and Tom Perez swigged from beer mugs and stained the convention contract. Various people proclaimed: “We’re not Laverne and Shirley … We’re going to put Milwaukee on the map … We have arrived.”

While political conventions are nice injections of business, they do little to change the national public perception of a city. Political conventions are bubbles, and news stories about the surrounding metropolis tend to focus on negatives (such as Tampa’s sweltering environment during the 2012 RNC) and not on the lovely greenways and museums.

But what about the strategic angle? Capturing a swath of swing states across the nation’s midsection is one path to a Democratic presidency, and Hillary Clinton famously overlooked one of those states, Wisconsin, in the run-up to 2016. So why not make damn sure this time.

“This is definitely a makeup bid,” writes New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who adds that Democrats have not held a convention in the midwest for more than a century. “Cheese! Beer! Democrats!” the piece is headlined.

In 2016, a downbeat, ad-hoc study by the Pacific Standard found little-to-no evidence that holding a political convention in a state affects the vote there. One could imagine that partisan opponents are simply irritated by all the hubbub while supporters are both jazzed and irritated, reinforcing existing beliefs.

So everything will be fine, if not great, and if you were thinking about opening a hotel between now and 2020 (like these people), it wouldn’t hurt.



Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.