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Government, Politics & Issues

Charlotte, not St. Louis, wins nod to host Democratic convention in 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 2, 2011 - Shortly after 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, St. Louis' Democratic officials got the call they'd been waiting for -- but not the answer.

The city of St. Louis lost out to Charlotte, N.C., in the competition to host the 2012 Democratic presidential convention. St. Louis officials believe President Barack Obama determined he wanted to launch his re-election bid in the South, not the Midwest. The Republican national convention will be in Tampa, Fla.

"They've decided that the symbolism of going into the South is important," said U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., as she spoke to Beacon Washington correspondent Robert Koenig. McCaskill added that such a move shouldn't be seen as a sign that the president's team is writing off the Midwest.

"He's got to have the Midwest. And I don't think anybody should interpret this as giving up on the Midwest," McCaskill said. "I don't think that's the case."

While "bitterly disappointed,'' McCaskill also indicated that she wasn't entirely surprised by today's announcement. "I got worried a few weeks ago when, all of a sudden, they quit returning my phone calls. I think I drove them crazy" asking about the decision.

But local Democratic consultant Mike Kelley, who works closely with unions, called the DNC's decision "a direct slap at the base of the party."

"They rejected one of the most union cities in the country for one of the most non-union cities,'' said Kelley. He also noted that labor often has supplied the Democratic muscle -- and cash -- for elections. He asserted that national Democratic officials may run into trouble when they ask labor groups for money to help pay for the convention in Charlotte.

"I think the DNC made a short-sighted decision,'' Kelley said, adding that "it's decisions like this that led to the debacle in the 2010 elections."

Aside from the labor angle, he added, many national Democrats had cited St. Louis for making "the best bid'' for the convention.

DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse denied that the decision was anti-labor. Although acknowledging that North Carolina is a "right to work" state, which put it at odds with national labor unions, Woodhouse said the state's labor leaders had supported Charlotte's bid.

"We work very closely with labor'' and will continue to do so, Woodhouse said. He added that a number of factors played into the DNC's final decision.

Woodhouse also denied a New York Times report that McCaskill privately had lobbied against St. Louis, allegedly out of concern over her own re-election contest in 2012. "She had frequent contact with the DNC and the White House in support of St. Louis,'' Woodhouse said. "She was a one-person Chamber of Commerce."

McCaskill, in turn, Tweeted her own denial late Tuesday: "Of course I wanted DNC for St Louis. It would have brought $,organization, and face it, not getting it sure isn't gonna stop political attacks."

St. Louis may try again in 2016 -- for either party

As for the DNC's decision, most St. Louis officials sought to be diplomatic -- to a point. "We congratulate Charlotte,'' said city Democratic Party chairman Brian Wahby, who serves on the DNC's executive committee and was among the first to be notified of the decision.

St. Louis had been among the four finalists. The others were Cleveland and Minneapolis. For several months, the word had been that the final decision was between Charlotte and St. Louis.

While disappointed, Wahby emphasized, "I can't tell you how happy I am with the effort St. Louis put forth. We have no regrets, no reason to hold our head down."

"We proved that St. Louis should swing for the fences," he said. "Clearly, we have what it takes to do big things."

Wahby cited the cooperative campaign launched by area business leaders and labor, Republicans and Democrats -- including many from neighboring Illinois -- to "do something big'' and win the once-every-four-years convention.

St. Louis was widely praised for its presentation last summer to woo the visiting DNC delegation -- an effort that included a concert featuring rock-and-roll legend Chuck Berry and rapper Nelly.

To come so close, said Wahby, is "sort of like being nominated for an Oscar, and then not winning it."

The honor of being a finalist, he added, is almost -- but not quite -- enough. Wahby said he hopes St. Louis makes another bid for 2016.

Some officials already are predicting, privately and publicly, that St. Louis' next bid may be a bipartisan one.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay was stranded by the weather in Albuquerque, N.M., and was notified of the DNC's decision by his staff. Slay told reporters by telephone and the Internet that he also was interested in a 2016 convention bid, but he declined to specify which political party.

"That is a disappointment for all of us who worked on a proposal to bring the event to St. Louis," the mayor wrote on his blog. "We would have loved every minute of the excitement -- and inconvenience -- that a major political convention brings."

Slay said that he believed the DNC's final decision had been based on "electoral politics" and explained that the White House had determined that it made better sense for the president to launch his re-election bid from the South, and not the Midwest.

Wrote Slay: "St. Louis was not selected for 2012 for reasons of electoral politics. That is a decision of the president and his re-election team. I will not fault it. St. Louis will submit a bid for a 2016 national political convention, when the electoral politics will be different."

"Thanks to all who helped put together a strong DNC bid," he added. "We just aren't the South."

The president's wife, Michelle Obama, focused on Charlotte's southern hospitality in a White House statement announcing its selection. "Charlotte is a city marked by its southern charm, warm hospitality, and an 'up by the bootstraps' mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South," Michelle Obama says in the statement, referring in part to Charlotte's current status as a financial-business hub. Bank of America's headquarters are in Charlotte.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a close friend of Obama and the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, told the Beacon's Koenig that he didn't know why Charlotte was selected. "And I'm disappointed, because I thought St. Louis would be a great choice," Durbin said."

Asked if the choice of Charlotte represented a Southern Strategy, Durbin replied: "I can't say. He did well in North Carolina (in 2008). Obviously, he came close in Missouri. So I'm not sure if that was part of the strategy."

Praise all around for St. Louis' effort

The upside for St. Louis, said Slay, was that community leaders "learned that we have the infrastructure, hotels, transportation, logistics, security, amenities, communications, and finances to host such an event. And that wasn't true even four years ago."

McCaskill said Tuesday morning that she was "incredibly proud of the bid put forth by St. Louis and how bipartisan the support was. I want to thank the business community and all the local leaders, especially Mayor Slay, for their tireless efforts on behalf of the city. This was an effort we should all be proud of."

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, also weighed in with praise, saying "St. Louis put its best foot forward during this entire process and I'm proud of the strong bid we made. I want to thank Mayor Slay, County Executive Dooley and Kitty Ratcliffe and her staff at the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission for all of their hard work. We will continue to work to bring world-class events to our region. St. Louis is a great American city -- in an ideal location -- in a great state."

U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, also registered his disappointment -- and gently took exception to what he believed were the DNC's reasons for choosing Charlotte over its Midwest rivals.

"Obviously, I think this was a huge missed opportunity for the DNC to hold the convention in a swing state that's in the heartland of swing states," Carnahan said in a statement. "But as our St. Louis Cardinals will tell you -- if you want to win the World Series, you have to put everything you have into making it into the playoffs. We did that."

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