Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to make Brooklyn the host of the 2016 Democratic National Convention rather than Philadelphia or Columbus, Ohio, isn’t just cheerleading for the home team. It’s central to his brand.
De Blasio’s Brooklyn is his vision of the future: an ethnic melting pot bubbling with population and job growth, new restaurants, hot real-estate prices, artist colonies and innovative small manufacturers. After serving as a Brooklyn city councilman, he piled up more than 75 percent of the vote in New York’s most populous borough to become the first Democrat to run City Hall in 20 years.
“Brooklyn matters because Brooklyn has shown the way,” the mayor said in November when he introduced a high-powered host committee to lure the convention to the Barclays Center, the 19,000-seat arena that opened in 2012 in the borough’s downtown.
At stake is at least $163 million in economic impact, plus the intangible benefits that come from basking in the glow of free media attention. New York has worked hard over the past 13 years to market itself as a tourist draw, attracting a record 56.4 million visitors last year and supporting an industry with 359,000 jobs. Officials in the three competing cities expect a decision in the next week.
“As good citizens, it’s important to support efforts that are good for New York,” Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, said in an interview. “Having the convention here will extend our reputation as a great place to work and visit.”
Blankfein, 60, grew up in a Brooklyn public housing development. He’s one of 119 host-committee members tapped by de Blasio, along with scores of the city’s most celebrated business and labor leaders and show-business personalities. It was an effort to showcase the city’s capacity to raise private money for the convention, de Blasio said.
The 53-year-old mayor has vowed to raise $100 million from the high powered committee. He says he already has pledges for $20 million.
Philadelphia and Columbus face an uphill battle against the Big Apple. They lack the glitz and star power that de Blasio’s team touts, while also trailing in hotel rooms and jobs held by unionized workers, a key Democratic constituency.
New York has about 102,000 rooms, of which about 72 percent are union-staffed, according to Josh Gold, political director for the New York Hotel Trades Council. Philadelphia has about 10,500 in its Center City and 30,000 within a half-hour’s drive, of which about 16 percent are unionized. Columbus, with about 25,000 rooms within a half-hour’s drive, has two hotels with some union workers.
Of the three mayors, only de Blasio will remain in office on July 25, 2016, when the presidential nominating convention is scheduled. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat, is term-limited and in his final year. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, also a Democrat and chairman of the city’s convention committee, announced in November that he wouldn’t seek a fifth term.
De Blasio says he has no doubt that a convention at Barclays Center, with its convenient access from 11 subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road, would be a boon to Brooklyn.
In the second half of the 20th century, the borough was a symbol of urban decay from which middle-class taxpayers fled for the suburbs.
The borough, which recorded 158,000 major crimes in 1990, experienced 34,000 last year. It now has its own cachet as a global brand and the epitome of urban life. It’s creating jobs and adding residents faster than any other borough, sparking a boom in commercial development to supply the new masses.
De Blasio’s election dramatized a shift in New York City’s center of gravity, reducing the supremacy of Manhattan across the East River as Brooklyn exerts more influence on New York’s political, economic and cultural life than ever.
“A place that was often the underdog is now the envy of the world,” de Blasio said. “Brooklyn’s an example to us all, an example to America.”