Another official pointed to a letter sent by New York labor leaders imploring Biden to choose a workplace city, because of his emotional ties and political connections to the labor movement.
Chicago labor leaders sent a letter of their own. Chicago’s biggest team has grown increasingly confident in its chances over the past week. But they knew it was a done deal when Biden and Gov. JB Pritzker spoke early Tuesday morning, when the Illinois Democrat highlighted the president’s love for the country’s iconic cities.
“Chicago is your kind of city and we are going to throw a big party for you,” Pritzker said, according to a person close to the Chicago bid who was granted anonymity to discuss the conversation candidly.
Biden broke the news about the call, after which the Democratic National Committee issued an announcement saying the city would host delegates and convention attendees from August 19-22, 2024.
The announcement was a blow to Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who is vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and early on encouraged Chicago Democrats to try to participate in the convention. But she also revealed some of the thinking inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., where Biden is considering both re-election and a memorable convention after having to skip festivities in Milwaukee during the pandemic in 2020.
Biden had struggled to decide which of the three cities to choose, even joking with confidants at one point about why Democrats couldn’t just hold the talk in Philadelphia, according to a person familiar with the exchange. Philadelphia hadn’t actually applied to host the convention, though it did enjoy a strategic advantage over the other cities: proximity to Biden’s beloved Delaware.
Privately, Biden thought of Atlanta as a smart strategic choice, noting that it was a swing state that could propel him to another term if he ran again. He had already moved Georgia ahead on the Democratic primary schedule.
But his views were at odds with those of the group that convinced his team, which admitted that Atlanta just didn’t make sense logistically. Although the city is increasingly driving Democrats to victory in some key races, it is still in a conservative southern state, with a six-week abortion ban.
Georgia is also a right-to-work state and has few unionized hotels compared to Chicago. Another party official noted that it would be easier for Biden and the convention committee to work with Pritzker compared to Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who is increasingly interested in a national profile (Democrats have been working more with the mayor of Atlanta than with Kemp).
Still, elected officials in Illinois and Chicago feared that Biden’s sentimentality about Atlanta would win out. And so they and their neighbors formed their own full-court press. When the DNC came to Chicago to discuss the city’s bid, they were there at the opening of Lollapalooza. Mayor Lori Lightfoot took them to see Metallica warm up in an empty Grant Park.
Later in the process, Midwestern governors and other elected officials, along with Midwestern Democratic Party chairmen and labor leaders sent letters to Biden urging him to choose Chicago. They also spoke directly to his team, underscoring how critical the Midwest region had been for him in 2020.
“The Midwest is key to a victory in 2024, and there is no city better positioned to reach those voters than Chicago,” Duckworth said in a statement. He, too, had privately appealed to Biden with this message.
But even those pitches were covered in the kind of odes to history that organizers believed were critical to winning over Biden.
“Chicago is an engine for progress. Chicago proudly represents millions of Democratic voters and is a historic Democratic stronghold. Given that Detroit has already earned the honor of hosting the 2024 NFL Draft, it would only be right to share the victories with a Midwestern city nearly as large,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wrote in her personal letter.
However, there was concern about Chicago’s persistent problem with violent crime. Statistics showed it was declining, but still higher than pre-pandemic levels, making it an issue in the recent mayoral race and a concern it could land Democrats on fire over its handling. .
What ended up helping Chicago, according to a person close to the city’s bid, were two recent Democratic victories on the issue of abortion. The first was for a state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin, which will likely help block an 1840s abortion ban from the books. The second was Whitmer’s repeal of the 1931 state abortion ban. Each asserted that progressive politics continues to have a strong foothold in the Midwest.
“It was the Blue Wall,” the person said.
Money mattered too. Pritzker, who has been instrumental in promoting Chicago, ensured that the DNC would not go into debt for holding a convention in Chicago, which was a problem in 2012 when the convention in Charlotte, NC, ended with millions in the red.
The Illinois governor, who bankrolled his last two elections, recruited his sister, former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, businessman Michael Sacks, Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts, and Illinois AFL-CIO president, Tim Drea, to help fund the Chicago effort. Jerry Reinsdorf and Rocky Wirtz, who lead the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively, were also part of Chicago’s address to the DNC. Both teams play at the United Center, where the convention will be held. It is the same venue as the 1996 Democratic Convention.
“We are ready to repeat the performance,” they said in a joint statement.
Still, as the time for Biden to make a decision neared, he and other party officials expected one final domino to fall: Chicago’s mayoral race on April 4. the convention if mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, who had previous ties to Republicans and had been publicly critical of prominent Democrats, won. It would not have been a deal breaker, according to a person involved in the talks, but it could have been a complicating factor.
When Brandon Johnson emerged with a clear victory in the April 4 runoff election, he further cemented the city’s reputation as a union city (Johnson is a former organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union) and put the Chicago DNC in the driver’s seat.
Johnson himself spoke directly to Biden in recent days about the convention during a private call in which the president congratulated the new mayor.
“We did everything we could,” Lightfoot said. «Anyone who had a connection in the White House, in the orbit of the president, we were in his ear saying ‘Chicago, Chicago, Chicago.'»