By HOWARD FINE
The city of Los Angeles is preparing to submit bids to host both the Democratic and Republican national political conventions at the planned Staples Arena in the year 2000.
The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau is leading the bid efforts on behalf of the city, gathering the documentation to support the proposals and making sure that the city meets the requirements stipulated by the party central committees.
“We would love to have both conventions here in Los Angeles in 2000,” Mayor Richard Riordan said in a phone interview last week from Japan, where he was on a trade mission. “I realize hosting the Democratic convention is more achievable because the Republicans just had theirs in San Diego, but we’re lobbying hard for both.”
The bid deadline for the Democratic convention site is April 17; the deadline for the Republican convention site is April 24. The party committees are expected to make their final decisions next winter.
While the city is technically playing both sides of the fence, several political consultants expect the city to focus on snagging the Democrats. The GOP, as Riordan noted, just held their 1996 convention in San Diego. And Los Angeles, consultants say, is a far more hospitable fund-raising ground for Democrats than for Republicans.
“Los Angeles would most definitely be a front-runner to host the 2000 Democratic convention,” said Joe Cerrell, a local Democratic political consultant and executive director of the California delegation for the 1960 Democratic convention, the last (and only) time Los Angeles hosted a national convention.
L.A. would be going up against a dozen other cities for the Democratic site, including perennial favorites like New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Also on the list: Boston, Denver, Miami, San Antonio, and two cities in Vice President Albert Gore’s home state of Tennessee, Memphis and Nashville. If Gore runs for president, he could play a critical role in determining where the convention is held.
On the Republican side, L.A. was one of 25 cities asked to submit bids. Others include Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Orlando and St. Louis.
Los Angeles was a front-runner to host the 1996 Democratic convention until Riordan withdrew the city’s bid in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Given the quake and the city’s budget problems, Riordan decided the city did not have the money, said Gail-Marie Fort, vice president of marketing and communications for the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is preparing the current round of bids on behalf of the city.
When it hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1996, Chicago spent between $23 million and $25 million in cash and in-kind expenses, such as police and traffic enforcement, Fort said.
Fund raising this time around is not viewed as a significant problem, especially given the robust economic recovery. Riordan has also proved himself a capable fund raiser for other civic projects like the Disney Concert Hall.
With the Staples Arena due to be completed by the fall of 1999, in time for the opening of the hockey and basketball seasons, city officials are looking to showcase both the new arena and the city itself. A political convention, with its attendant crush of 10,000 to 15,000 members of the national media, is viewed as an ideal way to draw attention.
“The arena puts us in a viable and attractive facility this time around,” Fort said. “It puts us in a strong position to meet the convention site requirements of both parties.”
The new arena will have luxury skyboxes that can double as press boxes, a central stage area, and all the latest in broadcast and lighting facilities, she said. Its proximity to huge amounts of workspace in the Convention Center and to the major television studios are also pluses.
One potential drawback is the planned 20,000-seat capacity of the Staples Arena. The central committees of both parties require a minimum of 25,000 seats in the convention facility. Fort said the bids will stipulate that between 2,000 and 2,500 temporary seats can be added, bringing the capacity to 22,500 seats. That is 2,500 seats short of the minimum, but Fort said she does not believe that to be a deal-breaker.
Also, there may be some apprehension among members of the site-selection committees of both parties that the arena is not actually built yet.
“A lot of arrangements need to be made as soon as the winning bid is announced,” said Jim Barnes, White House correspondent for the National Journal. “You wouldn’t want to be putting the final touches on the hall during that process. So I would guess there might be a little bit of apprehension there.”
But Barnes and other national political consultants and observers say that the benefits of holding the convention in California would likely outweigh the seating problem. For starters, the Democrats have not held a convention in California the largest swing state since the 1984 convention in San Francisco.
“Conventions tend to be in states that are important for votes, and there is no question that California with more than 10 percent of the total electoral votes is absolutely vital,” said Mark Mellman, a Washington-based Democratic political consultant.
Also, holding a convention in Los Angeles gives Democrats access to a huge pool of campaign funds from the Hollywood entertainment sector, Barnes said.
“This is a very strong point in Los Angeles’ favor, since political parties like to have conventions in cities with potential for a lot of fund raising,” he said.
As for Riordan being a Republican mayor, his moderate political stance and close ties to the Clinton-Gore administration make that a non-issue for the Democrats, Barnes said.
“Riordan is widely regarded as Republican-lite,” he said.
On the other hand, the fact that the Republicans held their 1996 convention in San Diego makes it “very unlikely” they would choose Los Angeles for 2000, said Christine Matthews, the Washington partner for Market Strategies Inc., a Republican political consulting and polling firm.
“There will be pressure from Republicans in other regions to bring the convention to them this time,” Matthews said. “I think the decision will be made to bring the convention back to the roots of the Republican Party in the American heartland.”
Also, Matthews said, after former Senate majority leader and then-presidential nominee Bob Dole attacked the morals of Hollywood studio bosses, many would think it inappropriate to bring the Republican convention to their back yard.