Atlanta makes big push for the 2024 Democratic convention

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

When Mayor Andre Dickens journeyed to the White House in September to join President Joe Biden’s formal celebration of the Atlanta Braves’ World Series victory, he had more on his mind than just toasting the ballclub.

The first-term mayor used the occasion to quietly make his case to Biden’s aides on securing one of his administration’s top goals, an ambitious effort to land the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta for the first time in more than three decades.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering and public jockeying for the political spectacle is in full swing as Democratic officials draw closer to a final decision. Party leaders have winnowed their options to a handful of finalists, and Chicago is believed to be Atlanta’s top rival.

Atlanta is mounting an ambitious pressure campaign to clinch the quadrennial event, which is expected to bring 5,000 delegates and 45,000 other visitors to the city — and showcase Georgia’s status as one of the nation’s most important political battlegrounds.

The city’s bid centers on Georgia’s swing-state politics, replete with callbacks to Biden’s 2020 flip of the state and the victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the U.S. Senate runoffs that swung control of the chamber to Democrats.

Also sharing the spotlight is the city’s fabled civil rights history, something that the Choose Atlanta 2024 committee evokes with a slogan that puts a twist on the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ iconic mantra: “Make Good Trouble With Us.”

State Democrats were told to expect a decision by the spring — and that Biden will have the final say. After his 2020 convention in Milwaukee was forced almost entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic, boosters say Atlanta can offer the party he missed four years ago.

“President Biden didn’t get an opportunity to have a traditional nominating process in 2020. What better place to hold the convention than the state that put him over the top?” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, the state party’s chairwoman and one of the leaders of the bid.

‘We see it’

Key Chicago Democrats have intensified their lobbying, too. Some state officials fret that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, could dip into his own bank account to help finance the Windy City’s venture. New York is also in the mix.

But Atlanta boosters aren’t sitting still. They say they’ve lined up more than $20 million in commitments from the state’s largest corporations and key donors. The total cost could top $80 million, but roughly half could come from ticket sales, sponsorships and suite packages.

They’ve put together a committee that includes Williams, Democratic operative Michael Tyler, business executive Clark Seydel, campaign consultant Clayton Cox, Dickens aide Austin Wagner and Courtney English, a senior adviser to Dickens. Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, now a top Biden adviser, is also advocating for the city.

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

They’ve also recruited allies from outside Georgia to promote the city. Among them is former Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, who is working to line up endorsements from elected officials and prominent party figures across the region.

“Georgia embodies everything the Democratic Party wants to showcase. It’s a swing state that helped deliver the presidency to Joe Biden and delivered the Senate majority to Democrats,” said Jones, who served in the chamber from 2018 to 2021.

“With the demographic shifts in the region, there are opportunities for Democrats to start turning everything around. Georgia epitomizes that,” he said. “We recognize that, we see it — and we want the rest of the South to see it.”

‘Truly special’

When Atlanta last hosted the Democratic nominating convention in 1988, Michael Dukakis was officially minted as the presidential nominee and the state was a solid blue bastion. Now Georgia is one of only a few competitive states on the 2024 road map to the White House.

Senior Democratic officials have already toured a range of downtown Atlanta venues pitched for the event and are said to be impressed with the city’s ample hotel stock — crucial to house the crush of visiting delegations — and the tight proximity of key sites.

The convention’s main event would be staged at State Farm Arena, which has played host to basketball games, big-ticket concerts and early voting. The CNN Center could hold the media area, and Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia World Congress Center could serve as other venues.

Party officials have said little about how they’re leaning, but DNC Chair Jamie Harrison said during a July visit that the committee prefers a city that can provide a seamless “turnkey operation.”

“Atlanta is a city that represents the Democratic Party’s values: diversity, inclusion and opportunity,” Harrison said. “The Democratic Party owes Georgia a whole lot.”

Allies of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp say he won’t take any steps to interfere with Atlanta’s bid.

He’s said to be mindful that Atlanta’s win would not only boost the city’s economy but give him another means to counter attacks that paint the state’s GOP-backed policies, such as abortion restrictions, as harmful to Georgia’s business climate.

Boosters are eager to pitch the event as one that transcends partisan politics and instead is a matter of civic pride. Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young noted in an op-ed published Wednesday that more than 40,000 voters cast their ballots in 2020 at State Farm Arena, the potential site of the convention.

“Beyond the mere politics, those 40,000 votes are emblematic of what makes this city truly special,” wrote Young, a former Atlanta mayor. “When it comes to taking on the biggest tasks and the toughest challenges, Atlanta always rises to the occasion.”