Chicago pulled out all the stops Tuesday to convince Democratic Party leaders to pick the city to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention — but officials found their pitch overshadowed by a fight over who should lead Illinois’ Democratic Party.
Chicago is battling New York City, Atlanta and Houston for the right to celebrate the party’s nominees for president and vice president in August 2024, while showcasing the Democratic Party’s pitch to voters. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have said they plan to run for a second term.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot kicked off the event by insisting that Chicago “is the only choice” for the convention — and would benefit the city by helping supercharge its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re ready for our close up,” Lightfoot said. “This is a great global city.”
The event took place in a gleaming new skyscraper in the Fulton Market District, not far from the United Center on the city’s West Side, where at least some events will take place. The home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks was also home to the 1996 Democratic National Convention, which jump-started efforts to revitalize the West Loop, which is now home to trendy restaurants, hip shops and hundreds of new apartments and condominiums.
“Chicago is the essence of the diversification of America,” said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Chicago.
Illinois’ top Democrats joined forces with labor and business leaders to announce the convention bid, with officials saying the event would infuse $150 million into Illinois’ economy and boost Chicago’s flagging tourism and hospitality industries, which have been slow to recover amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said the party would select a city to host the convention “that represents the Democratic Party’s values: diversity, inclusion, opportunity.”
After the 2020 convention was largely virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2024 convention will be the first chance for Biden and Harris to celebrate and tell the story of why they deserve a second term in office.
“We are looking for a turn-key operation,” Harrison said. “We are going to put on the best show that we have ever put on, ever in the history of Democratic conventions.”
A deeply blue city in the center of an increasingly red Midwest could give Democrats a chance to reach voters in nearby swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin, both of which proved crucial in Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump in 2020. Trump is expected to run for a second term in 2024.
Harrison said he did not subscribe to the conventional political wisdom that typically leads political parties to hold their conventions in swing states. The Republican National Committee is expected to hold their 2024 contest in Milwaukee, with Wisconsin expected to be a top-tier target for both parties.
But the city's convention pitch — bookended by performances by the Soul Children of Chicago choir and the Jesse White Tumblers — was overshadowed by the attempt by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to oust U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly as the head of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
With the support of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Illinois), Kelly narrowly won the contest to lead the state Democratic Party in March 2021, defeating Pritzker’s pick, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward).
Kelly’s victory was complicated by a ruling by the Federal Election Commission prohibiting her from soliciting campaign funds for candidates running in state contests.
As a federal elected official, Kelly is prohibited by federal election laws from raising or spending money for state or local races unless those activities follow restrictive federal laws.
Kelly created a separate committee to raise campaign cash, and told reporters after Tuesday’s event that the system has been working well, and the party was prepared for the November general election.
But Pritzker told reporters that system has created “challenges” and Kelly should instead serve as federal co-chair of the party, and focus on candidates for federal candidates.
The governor and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch is backing state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, in the contest for a full four-year term as the head of the Democratic Party of Illinois, set to be decided Saturday.
“I have a lot of respect for Congresswoman Kelly and support her in many ways,” said Pritzker, making his first public appearance after a bout with COVID-19. “We need to reconfigure the way the leadership is.”
Pritzker said he hoped Kelly would serve as federal chair of the party, helping federal candidates for office from Illinois.
“Whatever happens on Saturday, we’re all going to pull together, we’re Democrats,” said Pritzker, who has made high-profile trips to Florida and New Hampshire, sparking speculation that he was preparing to run for president if Biden does not seek a second term in office.
In a statement backing Hernandez, Welch said it is critical for the state party to be able to “accept, raise and spend funds that support all Democratic candidates across the state.”
“Right now, DPI does not and cannot do that. If a leadership change occurs, it will,” Welch said, adding that Illinois Democrats are determined to win several Supreme Court contests and the open race for the Secretary of State in order “to protect women’s rights, protect rights to privacy, and protect reproductive rights in Illinois.”
Hernandez did not respond to a request for comment from WTTW News on Tuesday. She was elected with Pritzker’s backing to the 34-member State Central Committee in last month’s primary election.