Democrats picked Milwaukee on Monday for their 2020 national convention, setting up a situation in which the party’s standard-bearer will accept the presidential nomination in the heart of the old industrial belt that delivered Donald Trump to the White House.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez chose Milwaukee over Houston and Miami after deliberations lingered longer than party leaders or officials from the three finalist cities had expected. The Democratic party is expected to play up its connection to Milwaukee’s working class roots. It’s a sentiment that was evident in Perez’s comments following the announcement — and one that Wisconsin labor unions were eager to embrace. On Twitter following the announcement, The DNC pointed out that labor unions had built the “state-of-the-art” Fiserv Forum, where the convention will be held.
“We need to fight alongside our brothers and sisters in labor to build a brighter future together, and empower the diversity of our party and country,” Perez said in a statement. “This choice is a statement of our values, and I’m thrilled Milwaukee will host the 2020 Democratic National Convention,” he continued. “The Democratic Party is the party of working people, and Milwaukee is a city of working people.”
It will be the first time in more than a century that Democrats will be in a Midwest city other than Chicago to nominate their presidential candidate. The political spotlight will shine for a week on a metro area of about 1.6 million people. Once dubbed as “The Machine Shop of the World,” the famously working-class city also is known for its long love affair with beer and as the birthplace of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The event runs from July 13 to July 16, 2020. Republicans are planning to gather in Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina, from Aug. 24 to Aug. 27, 2020.
John Zapfel, political director for the Milwaukee-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 494, which contributed to the committee fund, said the convention could bring a lot of work for the union. Hotels, for instance, will undertake projects to prepare for the crowd of 50,000 that’s expected to follow the convention to the city.
In addition to placing the city in a national spotlight, Zapfel said he also hopes that the convention’s message will praise the importance of union labor.
“It’s in the Midwest and it has been neglected in the last election cycle,” Zapfel said. “When we’re spoken to, people listen.”
Milwaukee taxpayers won’t be on the hook for the convention’s expenses, under a deal passed during a special meeting Monday. Just hours after the convention announcement, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously approved a contract between the city, the DNC and the host committee listing the city’s obligations in playing host for the event.
“It was a wise decision by the Mayor to pursue other financial opportunities to host the convention without putting the taxpayers at risk,” Ald. Michael Murphy said during the meeting.
The agreement also stipulates that the city will offer free rides during the event to convention-goers and the general public. The convention will place local officials under further pressure to find a way to extend Milwaukee’s streetcar to the Fiserv Forum.
City officials are still in the early stages of extending Milwaukee’s recently completed streetcar to the Fiserv Forum. A new line to the arena would run north from the streetcar’s headquarters at North 5th Street and West Clybourn Avenue along Vel R. Philips Avenue to the arena.
Preliminary engineering is still underway for an expansion to the arena and to the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood, a spokesman with the city’s Department of Public Works said Monday. The city has $20 million set aside that could be used to match other money to pay for a streetcar extension. In December, the city missed out on a federal grant that would have payed for half of the $40 million it would take to expand the line. DPW did not return a request for further comment by press time Monday.
Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, said the convention will likely advance a number of building projects over the next year-and-a-half, especially in the city center. The streetcar’s extension to the Fiserv Forum may also follow the completion of a lakefront loop, which would take riders to the Milwaukee Art Museum and other waterfront attractions. The long-awaited Coture high-rise would include a first-floor transit concourse for streetcar.
“You’re going to have to (expand the streetcar),” Bukiewicz said. “You’re going to see remodels go on hotels that have been on hold. I wouldn’t be surprised to see if there’s a fast track on development downtown. Organized labor can get anything done.”
Bukiewicz also serves as mayor of Oak Creek, a southern suburb of Milwaukee that he expects to see a “huge windfall” from convention traffic.
Democrats are seeing plenty of significance in Milwaukee after the 2016 election was defined by Hillary Clinton’s being beaten in almost every part of what her campaign aides had confidently called a “Blue Wall” in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. That band of states twice sided with President Barack Obama, but Clinton held only Minnesota, ceding Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — 64 of the necessary 270 electoral votes — as white working-class voters flocked to Trump. Afterward, Clinton took withering criticism for not once visiting Wisconsin as a general election candidate.
Since then, Wisconsin voters have re-elected the Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and ousted former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, in favor of the Democrats Tony Evers and the state’s first black lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes.
Wisconsin Democrats noted those midterm election results as they lobbied Perez and DNC officials, and presidential candidates already are paying attention. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar came to Wisconsin in one of her first trips as a declared candidate.
“A lot people feel that we lost (in 2016) because this area had been ignored — whether it’s from a political standpoint or whether it’s from a governing standpoint,” said Barnes, one of the members of the convention bid committee. Holding the convention in Milwaukee, Barnes added, says “we are ready to reinvest in the Midwest, that the Midwest matters again.”
Democrats’ would be well-served by playing up their alliance with labor unions, Bukiewicz, which have a rich yet rocky history in Wisconsin. The state has seen a number of policies that have chipped away at unions under Walker, beginning with Act 10, which eliminated collective bargaining and led to an unsuccessful attempt to recall Walker.
“Without a doubt it’s going to become an issue,” Bukiewicz said. “Wisconsin was a battleground over labor rights just 8 or 10 years ago. (Unions) are still around. They are not going anywhere. They have always been here. That’s going to be a centralized issue.”