It felt a little like a breakup we never saw coming. After months of assurances and happy talk from Democratic boosters, BAM! The DNC picked Chicago over Atlanta for the 2024 Democratic National Convention.
Sure, maybe Chicago has more family money. And at high noon on a day in late August, maybe Chicago is a better looking date than Atlanta’s hazy, sauntering sauna. But isn’t that what air conditioning is for? Trust me, DNC, this is your loss.
We got the news Tuesday morning when the story broke from Lynn Sweet at The Chicago Sun-Times that Chicago had won out over Atlanta and New York.
Along with being a legendary Chicago columnist, Lynn is also an old friend of mine, so I read her columns religiously. And over the past several months, as journalists in Atlanta had been getting pure confidence from Georgia Democrats involved in Atlanta’s 2024 bid, I noticed that Lynn was getting a similar full-confidence read from leaders in Illinois, but with more details.
One of her columns even pitched Chicago as having everything New York has to offer “except the Statue of Liberty and trash in the streets.” Atlanta didn’t even rate a mention. That seemed like a bad sign.
Of primary importance in Chicago’s convention bid as D.C. Democrats were making their decisions was the unusual assurance from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker that he would personally cover any debts accrued by the DNC for a convention in his city, which is estimated to run as much as $100 million.
Can anyone really do that? Yes, especially since there are at least 10 billionaires in the Pritzker family, including the governor, thanks to its role in co-founding Hyatt Hotels. Writing a check for a simple political convention is, truly, not a problem.
Along with being wildly wealthy, the Pritzker family is also wildly well connected, especially in Democratic politics. Gov. Pritzker’s sister, Penny Pritzker, served as secretary of commerce under President Barack Obama. And for all the Obama Cabinet meetings she attended, then-Vice President Joe Biden was on hand as well.
As top donors to national Democrats, the Pritzkers have known Biden for decades. When the president made the final decision for which city would host his convention, he called J.B. Pritzker personally.
The optics of possibly putting former President Donald Trump on criminal trial, which both New York and Atlanta could do in the summer of 2024, could not have helped their chances either.
A recent sign that Chicago’s bid was edging out Atlanta came last week from Sweet again, when she reported that the DNC’s Technical Advisory Group had listed the Windy City as its top pick. The panel considered everything from hotel capacity to transportation to security, financing and other logistics in recommending it over Atlanta.
Among “other logistics” are organized labor considerations. Georgia’s status as a right-to-work state was a major strike against its bid in the end. And it was crucial last month when more than a dozen national union leaders wrote a letter to DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison calling Atlanta’s lack of union-friendly hotel space for state delegations “disqualifying.”
Although Atlanta would have had plentiful hotel rooms for conventiongoers, just two, the Hyatt Regency and Westin Peachtree Plaza, are considered “union-friendly,” meaning the staff of the hotels are free to join local unions. Compare that with Chicago, where more than 30 hotels can say the same.
The labor politics were just a part of the picture that Chicago organizers pointed to when they urged Democrats to bring their members to the “blue wall” in the Midwest.
While Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s disdain for President Joe Biden and all things “Democrat” is well known, Illinois is now at the center of what looks like a Democratic utopia. Between it, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Midwest now has four Democratic governors who were all reelected last year.
Sit back and enjoy the friendly company, Chicago Democrats said, along with Illinois’ assault weapons ban, pro-abortion policies and pro-union hotels.
And sure, some Democrats probably will be more comfortable next summer convening inside a blue wall than they would have been meeting on Georgia’s purply-red swing.
But that’s where the DNC missed its biggest opportunity. Because while walls may make people feel safe and secure, what Democrats really need to be a party of the future is not a wall but a bridge. Atlanta could have been that bridge. In so many ways, it already is.
Not only did Georgia voters pick Biden over Trump in 2020 by (famously) 11,780 votes, the state also has elected two Democratic senators since 2020, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
And although Stacey Abrams lost by 8 points to Kemp last year, her defeat came only after the governor rejected Trump’s efforts to oust him over and over again. In the end, even Democratic voters told me they supported Kemp as much for his refusal to buckle to Trump as for the state’s humming economy. Georgians wanted to move past Trump and they did.
But more important for Democrats than anything, Atlanta and the South represent the fight for civil rights in a way that no other part of the country can. From the King Center to Ebenezer Baptist Church to the mural of John Lewis and the Carter Center, Atlanta is built around living reminders that the fight for justice and equality was fought here.
And all over the South are daily reminders that the struggle for equal rights continues, from Alabama, where women live without abortion rights, to Tennessee, where two Black lawmakers were ousted from the Legislature last week but a white lawmaker was not, to Georgia, where Black women remain more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy than white women.
Those fights should be at the center of every choice the DNC makes, including its selection of a 2024 convention city.
But if big-money promises and easy politics are more your thing, that’s fine, too. And the view in Chicago over Lake Michigan isn’t bad either.
Just remember, Democrats, with Atlanta, you had your chance.