Chicago Democratic convention leaders ready for anything and see no echoes of 1968

The Israel-Hamas war is heightening fears of unrest, but convention leaders say they’re confident in their partnerships with Mayor Brandon Johnson, Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling and the U.S. Secret Service.

Minyon Moore
Minyon Moore, chairperson of the Democratic National Convention, discusses the challenges organizers face in putting on the event in Chicago Aug. 19-22. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times
Minyon Moore
Minyon Moore, chairperson of the Democratic National Convention, discusses the challenges organizers face in putting on the event in Chicago Aug. 19-22. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Democratic convention leaders ready for anything and see no echoes of 1968

The Israel-Hamas war is heightening fears of unrest, but convention leaders say they’re confident in their partnerships with Mayor Brandon Johnson, Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling and the U.S. Secret Service.

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With less than 15 weeks to go before a national spotlight descends on Chicago, Democratic National Convention leaders are swatting away comparisons to 1968 and trying to get ahead of worst-case scenarios.

That includes combing through social media posts to prepare for what-ifs, trying to target disinformation, vetting 12,000 volunteers and meeting frequently with Chicago officials and police.

Convention leaders are doing all of that while trying to show the party is unified behind President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris ahead of the Aug. 19-22 convention — even as the nation’s universities grapple with legions of pro-Palestinian protesters and counterprotesters.

In 1968, “I was definitely in Chicago,” convention chair Minyon Moore said in an interview with the Sun-Times. “Because I was very young, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking at, but I do remember some of the visuals, and I can say, if you try to compare [to 1968], you haven’t really put it in context.

“Because there is really, in my judgment, no comparison. When you were faced with two real assassinations [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy]. … You were faced with young men who at that time were being drafted by a war that they didn’t want to attend. And so that’s the imagery that you had.”

The Israel-Hamas war is heightening fears of unrest, but convention leaders say they’re confident in their partnerships with Mayor Brandon Johnson, Chicago Police Supt. Larry Snelling and the U.S. Secret Service. Snelling last month told reporters, “We’re going to police constitutionally.”

“Politics is different than it was in the ‘60s. You also have the Chicago Police Department, while certainly not perfect, the Chicago Police Department is not the Chicago Police Department of 1968,” said convention executive director Alex Hornbrook. “We have great confidence and a great partnership in the superintendent and the mayor.”

Alex Hornbrook laughing while Minyon Moore watches while both sit at table
Alex Hornbrook, executive director of the Democratic National Convention (left) and Minyon Moore, the convention’s chairperson. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Moore and Hornbrook have stressed that protesters’ First Amendment rights should be protected — despite dissent from activists miffed about being denied permits to protest.

“I think they use conventions as a place to do that, to help them lift their voices up. But I also like to say, we also have a right to conduct a convention,” Moore said. “So there’s two parallels here. And we want to make sure that the families that come to Chicago, that the delegates, the 50,000 people that emerge in Chicago, have a safe environment.”

In Moore, the convention has a trusted Chicago native at the helm, whose political roots go all the way back to former Mayor Harold Washington’s mayoral campaign and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign. Moore is a translator of sorts to those who don’t know the inner workings of Chicago politics.

The behind-the-scenes power player doesn’t like attention, but she has been in some of the most important decision-making rooms for decades. Moore said she was surprised when she was asked to lead the convention — but didn’t hesitate to say yes.

She was a top adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign — and most recently served on Biden’s transition team and helped the administration herald the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

She’s also a longtime supporter and outside adviser to Harris and helped the vice president assemble her office. When Harris was barraged by negative press at the beginning of her term, Moore was among her defenders.

Now she’s tasked once again with elevating the vice president on a national stage at the convention.

“She has found her footing. Absolutely. I think she’s doing an incredible job. She certainly has harnessed reproductive rights, and I think she’s actually helped us, elevated us by using the bully pulpit of the White House. The president has embraced it, and they are gangbusters,” Moore said of Harris. “What’s not recorded about her is her depth in terms of foreign policy because she’s taken a lot of foreign policy trips. So I think she’s turned a corner. I think she’s a great partner for the president.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Sen. Tammy Duckworth and former Mayor Lori Lightfoot helped land the convention in Chicago — and Hornbrook credited Pritzker with “rounding up the business, philanthropic, civic, and political communities.”

As for speculation that Pritzker is setting himself up for a 2028 presidential run, Moore said his focus is on reelecting Biden — at least for now.

“Having a successful convention helps the state and helps the city, whereby it helps Gov. Pritzker. But I think his No. 1 goal is to reelect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Moore said. “I think we can speculate down the road what it will mean for him, but I can tell you that I believe he firmly believes that his No. 1 job right now is to get Joe Biden reelected. And so I think, you do that, well, then your future is wide open.”