Illinois Democrats are floating Chicago as a potential site for the 2024 Democratic National Convention, a bid that could bring back a marquee political event that last swung through town nearly three decades ago.
Gov. JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth are coordinating the potential effort to land their party’s convention, which could be the showcase for a potential re-election campaign by President Joe Biden.
Duckworth could have an influential voice in the process because she is a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
“Our city and state – a vibrant and diverse metropolis, thriving suburbs and strong rural communities – offer proof that our party’s policies deliver for American families, and a convention would provide a boost to the local economy,” said Tarrah Cooper Wright, a spokeswoman on behalf of the push.
“Given the potential for Chicago to be an ideal host, we have agreed to explore this possibility and will make a decision in the near future,” she said.
The last time national Democrats convened in Chicago for their political convention was in 1996, when President Bill Clinton was embarking on his winning re-election campaign and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was immersed in his first successful run for Senate.
That convention was held at the United Center, which could serve as a possible venue for the 2024 convention, though the statement confirming the effort Wednesday did not spell out a potential site for the event.
Durbin and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, are also supportive of the effort.
Pritzker lobbied Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison about the city’s bonafides as a convention site during a visit to Chicago by Harrison last September, a Democratic aide familiar with the effort confirmed.
“The governor lauded Chicago as the perfect choice for the convention and noted Illinois is on the forefront of many of the Democratic policies the party is pushing for nationally, infrastructure, codifying Roe v Wade, broadband and raising minimum wage,” the aide said.
Illinois once was regarded as more of a swing state, but it has been a relatively safe place for Democrats, at least at the national level, since before Michael Jordan was winning NBA championships. Illinois has voted Democratic in the past eight presidential elections.
Hosting the convention here would put the state on a national stage and could elevate the profiles of some of Illinois’ top Democrats, including Pritzker and Lightfoot, assuming they both win re-election campaigns. Pritzker is facing re-election this year, and Lightfoot is actively fundraising but has not formally declared her plans for a second term.
It also would bring a much-needed surge of tourism to town, where the city’s vaunted hotel and restaurant scene is trying to re-emerge from the crippling effects of the pandemic.
Sam Toia, the CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said the convention would be “fantastic” and an “economic boom” for the city. He said he’s been in discussions with Cooper Wright’s team “relatively not that long” about what a convention could look like in Chicago.
“They wanted me to help them think of venues and hotels and restaurants – you know we want to put the best bid together here to show why the convention should be here,” Toia said.
For instance, he added, if a group of California delegates wants to have a party outside of the formal convention, “maybe they go to Moe’s Cantina on Kinzie that can cover up to 800 people there.”
Toia added he and Lightfoot would work together to prioritize sending tourists outside of the downtown area – into Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods.
“We will reach out to restaurants in Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Pilsen, Little Village or even Rogers Park or Jefferson Park if they have the venues to host these delegates that would come in from each state,” he said.
Potentially working against the bid to bring the convention here is the city’s well-documented surge in crime since the beginning of the pandemic. Homicides are at a nearly 30-year high, carjackings are at a 20-year high and expressway shootings are on the rise.
Those factors could pose a challenge for convention planners because it could give Republicans an opening to amplify crime as a defining issue, which the GOP is attempting to do this year in campaigns from Congress down to statehouses, including here in Illinois.
The Democratic source downplayed that concern, telling WBEZ, “I haven’t heard that from any of the Democrats in discussions.”
Chicago could face competition as a potential convention host from as little as 90 miles away. Wisconsin, a perennial presidential battleground state, played a pivotal role in Biden’s 2020 win and is being eyed by both parties as a potential convention locale in 2024.
Last September, Milwaukee made a pitch to Harrison for another crack at hosting the Democratic national convention after the pandemic scuttled the city’s plans to host a full-fledged 2020 convention. Republicans also are eying Milwaukee as a potential host site for the GOP national convention in 2024.
WBEZ reporters Becky Vevea and Mariah Woelfel contributed.
Dave McKinney covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow @davemckinney.