Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. JB Pritzker and other Democrats praised Chicago as the best host city for the 2024 Democratic national convention, but a ripening rift within the state Democratic Party hovered awkwardly over Tuesday’s sales pitch.
The mayor, governor and members of the state’s congressional delegation came together in a bid to woo Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, who was in the city with other national party officials to weigh Chicago’s bid to host the party convention.
Lightfoot described Chicago, with its rich diversity, ability to host large conventions and its “unified leadership,” as a “place where the DNC can truly shine.”
And she predicted the multi-day, summer 2024 event showcasing the party’s presidential ticket could generate between $150 million and $200 million in economic benefits for the city.
“A convention of this size and visibility would be tremendously beneficial to this city and give us an opportunity to claim our narrative on a global stage,” Lightfoot said.
Chicago is among four finalists for hosting the Democratic Party’s quadrennial presidential nominating convention, which was last held here in 1996, shortly after the United Center opened and when President Bill Clinton was nominated for a second term.
Appearing alongside the mayor, governor and state Democratic Party Chairwoman Robin Kelly, Harrison didn’t mention where Chicago stood in the pecking order against the other finalist cities, New York City, Atlanta and Houston.
“We are looking for a city that represents the Democratic Party’s values: diversity, inclusion, opportunity,” Harrison said.
But overshadowing the efforts by Illinois Democrats to show a unified face were Pritzker’s efforts to unseat Kelly, the south suburban congresswoman, as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Members of the Democratic state central committee are scheduled to meet Saturday in Springfield to elect a party chair to a new four-year term.
Kelly, who took over the post when former House Speaker Michael Madigan left ahead of his federal corruption indictment, is vying to remain in the leadership position despite lingering questions about her ability as a federal officeholder to be an effective campaign fundraiser.
As an alternative to Kelly, Pritzker has lined up behind state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, creating a public spat between the governor, the congresswoman and their respective allies in the partisan squabble.
It was all on display at Tuesday’s event with Harrison as Kelly shared the camera shot with Pritzker a foot or two away.
While she didn’t comment on her bid to remain as chair, both Harrison and the governor responded to questions about whether the party disunity might harm Chicago’s chances of landing the Democratic convention two years from now.
“Well, let’s be clear. We’re all standing here in unison, standing up for a Democratic convention for Chicago and for the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said during perhaps the event’s most awkward moment as Kelly peered over the governor’s left shoulder.
Harrison sidestepped whether the intraparty tensions in Illinois might affect the national party’s decision-making on a 2024 convention site.
“In the end, the Illinois Democratic Party, like all of our state parties, will choose who they want to be their chairs. That’s happening now. 2024 is a few years from now. So … this week, we’re focusing on the convention here,” he said.
Harrison also downplayed any political advantages in holding the convention in states like Georgia or Texas, where Democrats are struggling to gain a toehold on power.
“I know many of the pundits often talk about the impact politically that it has on things. We held the convention in Philadelphia, and we didn’t win Pennsylvania that year. We held a convention in Charlotte, and we didn’t win North Carolina that year. So, bottom line, it’s about the show. It’s about putting on the best show possible on the ground but also on television, painting the picture and demonstrating…why Democrats need to be in leadership.
“I want to select a city for the president who’s going to help put on the best showcase for the Democratic Party and to showcase the diversity and the inclusion and opportunity that this party creates and presents,” Harrison said.
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.