The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 4, 2014

Transportation, financing tops in landing political convention

By DAVID LIGHTMAN and LINDSAY WISE
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Hotels, transportation and finances - not political considerations - will matter most to Republican officials choosing a 2016 national convention site, party leaders said Monday after hearing bids from cities across the country.

Eight cities are vying to host the convention, which likely will be held between late June and mid-July of 2016. Kansas City, Mo., Phoenix, Columbus, Ohio, Cleveland and Denver were on the agenda of a special party committee Monday. Las Vegas, Dallas and Cincinnati are expected to make their case later this month. A final decision is expected in late summer.

Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, made his priority clear: “Securing the finances.”

The second consideration is logistics. Many Republicans grumbled about Tampa, Fla., site of the 2012 convention. Hotels were often half-hour rides away, and Hurricane Isaac forced cancellation of the first day’s events.

“Delegate experience,” said Priebus, has become a more significant issue for the party this time.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said after the city made its presentation that officials were focused on the nuts and bolts of fundraising, hotels, transportation and security - not the political leanings of a host city or whether it was located in a swing state.

“When you look at major urban cities that have the ability to host something like this, most have Democratic mayors and Democratic leanings,” said James, a Democrat, after the city’s 25-member delegation explained its plan to the nine-member selection committee.

The convention could bring international attention and $200 million to $300 million in direct economic benefits, James said.

“There is nothing bigger for a city than this, other than the Olympics,” James said. “You cannot buy the type of prestige and media coverage that a convention brings to a city.”

Politics is hardly a factor, though with three cities from the traditional swing state of Ohio, the question kept coming up. Priebus was asked at a news conference about Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who last week vetoed legislation that would have permitted businesses to refuse service to gays for religious reasons.

Social conservatives are an influential Republican constituency, but Priebus said the controversy would have no impact on the convention decision. “I trust Gov. Brewer made the best decision she had to make. It doesn’t play a role in our process,” he said.

Nor is he buying the notion that a convention’s site helps a party’s nominee. In 2012, party nominees lost their conventions’ host states; President Barack Obama lost North Carolina, site of the Democratic convention, and Republican Mitt Romney lost Florida.

Party officials would not hint at anyone’s chances. Denver officials stressed how they hosted the 2008 Democratic convention and got decent notices. Las Vegas cites its convenience - thousands of hotel rooms, most walking distance to the convention site - and its vast experience hosting all kinds of conventions.

The Kansas City team said that it can provide more than 6,000 hotel rooms within 10 minutes’ walking distance from the city’s arena or convention center, and another 5,000 rooms within 25 minutes by privately chartered shuttle buses.

“All of their hotel needs can be satisfied with nobody spending more than half an hour in transit,” James said.

James declined to say whether the city plans to use any public funds to help cover security costs, construction or other expenses necessary for hosting the convention, and if so, how much.

Kansas City boosters have been tightlipped when asked for specifics about convention funding, citing state laws and a desire to keep the details of the bid secret from rival cities.