Milwaukee’s elected leaders united Wednesday in their support for hosting the 2024 Republican National Convention, a major step that brings the city one step closer to victory in the massive event.
Just hours after the Common Council unanimously approved an RNC framework agreement, Mayor Cavalier Johnson signed the legislation in the rotunda of City Hall surrounded by event organizers and supporters.
“We have reached an important milestone in our work to win the Republican National Convention in 2024, and I hope Milwaukee will soon receive a message from Republicans that they have chosen to hold their National Convention in 2024 right here in our city. “, he said.
Milwaukee and Nashville are the latest contenders for the convention that could draw tens of thousands of visitors and an estimated economic impact of $200 million. The winner could be announced by the end of this month.
The unity of city leaders around the event was not assured.
Whether a vote would even take place at Wednesday’s regular council meeting was all but certain after a key council committee declined its support for the deal last week.
The 13 deeply blue Milwaukee council members had weighed competing political and financial pressures to host the Republicans’ marquee rally.
A day before Wednesday’s meeting, Council President José G. Pérez called the vote a “difficult decision” given the range of opinions on a possible convention in addition to the need to rebuild relations of Milwaukee with Madison Republicans, who hold the key to the city’s financial stability. .
“I’m not ruling anything out, nor do I want to make a commitment that I can’t keep,” he said on Tuesday.
Ultimately, however, he joined the rest of his colleagues in supporting the RNC.
After the vote, there were hugs, fist bumps and a general feeling of celebration in a room upstairs from the council.
“This will go a long way in our quest to host the 2024 convention,” said Peggy Williams-Smith, President and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee.
The Framework Agreement is an agreement between the City of Milwaukee, the Republican National Committee and the local host committee. It spells out things like road closures for the event and security requirements, including the need for Milwaukee to apply for a $50 million security grant from the federal government.
For its part, the local host committee must provide the necessary funds to organize the event, including a financial guarantee to cover any shortfalls.
While approval of the framework agreement doesn’t necessarily mean the city has won the bid, it’s a necessary step that could help Milwaukee land a second major political convention this decade, following the Democratic National Convention in 2020 which has become a largely virtual event in the coronavirus pandemic.
Agreements have yet to be reached between the host committee and the main venues, the Fiserv Forum and the Wisconsin Center District.
Vote announced as a major step forward
On Wednesday, council members explained their support for the convention not only in terms of the expected benefits to local businesses and the economy, but also the need to build relationships with Republican state lawmakers who hold the key to helping the city meet its financial challenges.
“We’re really in a struggle to try to get the Republican Party in the state to provide assistance to allow us to deal with our structural budget deficit that’s coming in the next few years,” Ald said. Michael Murphy, who raised the issue in council. “To reject this convention would probably kill this dialogue in the future.”
Convention organizers and supporters heralded the vote as a milestone.
Gerard Randall, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin and secretary of the organizing committee, said organizers did a better job of communicating with council members in the week following the committee meeting.
“Obviously we did something right because it’s 13-zip,” he said of the vote. “I think we’ve worked tirelessly to help the wider community understand what the impact of the RNC’s arrival in Milwaukee would mean for the local economy, in fact the regional economy.”
State Republican Party Chairman Paul Farrow in a statement called the unanimous vote “yet another testament to the broad support our candidacy has received.”
Republican National Committee senior adviser Richard Walters said the organization was “honoured to receive a unanimous vote.”
“The site selection process is still ongoing and we expect to make a final decision in the coming weeks,” Walters said in a statement.
In a change from last week, the council dropped a proposal to demand a $6 million payment from the city to host the convention. Johnson had called the idea a “poison pill” and organizers expressed concern that the RNC would not meet the requirement.
Instead, the legislation approved Wednesday said the city and the host committee “should enter into a good faith commitment to reach an agreement under which the host committee would provide the city with funding equal to the dollar amount normally provided to a host city after previous in-person Republican National Conventions.
That sum, adjusted for inflation, would be used by the city for housing, higher education and workforce development programs, the legislation says.
It also requires city officials and the host committee to report the status of negotiations, plan development and event funding to the council on a quarterly basis.
This language has gained support from Alds. JoCasta Zamarripa, Robert Bauman and Marina Dimitrijevic, the sponsors of the proposal to demand the payment of 6 million dollars.
Zamarripa said she still hoped $6 million would eventually come to the city in the form of leftover funds raised by the organizing committee. That figure, she said, comes from amounts other cities have received for previous RNCs through fundraisers and donations to local foundations.
“We are confident in the assurances that the host committee leadership has made to engage, invest in the city of Milwaukee, comparable to what they have done in previous host cities,” said Zamarripa, the main sponsor of the $6 million proposal that also sponsored legislation approved Wednesday.
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Concerns about additional costs remain
Still, some council members have raised concerns about the convention costs the city will absorb even as it faces severe financial pressures brought on by factors including an impending spike in its annual pension dues.
Bauman said he remains concerned about the costs of city staff, overtime and more that would not be covered by a $50 million safety grant. The downtown alderman also said he believed the disruptions of the convention to daily life in his neighborhood had been glossed over.
Ahead of the meeting, Pérez also cited additional costs for other city services such as public works and said it was important for the city to get assurances that it will receive a financial benefit.
“I think it’s difficult, it takes a short notice to understand how it unfolds,” Pérez told the Journal Sentinel.
The convention would come shortly after the city begins to deal with a pension spike this fall that threatens to dramatically reduce services provided to residents, though federal pandemic aid could help stave off major effects for a few years.
And, Pérez said he wanted to make sure the positives of the convention reach neighborhoods instead of being concentrated downtown.
Johnson dodged a question about how the city would absorb convention-related costs for departments not covered by that grant. Instead, he focused on the potential that hosting the convention could improve relations with Republicans in the state, which Milwaukee leaders need for their candidacies to get more shared revenue and additional ways to raise. funds.
“There’s a whole host of moving parts, but I think overall it’s a good, positive development for the city,” Johnson said.
Approval puts Milwaukee ahead of Nashville procedurally
Milwaukee’s approval puts the city ahead of Nashville, which has yet to pass legislation to host the event, though Tennessee state Republicans have already approved a $25 million tourism grant that could be applied to the agreement.
Nashville beats Milwaukee in terms of infrastructure, entertainment and hotel room capacity, acknowledged Omar Shaikh, a member of the organizing committee and owner of a local business.
But problems loom over Nashville’s chances. The start of a Trump-endorsed congressional candidate in the primary led to infighting among national Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.S.C., who wrote on Twitter that he couldn’t imagine hold the RNC in a state with such “corrupt politics”.
“The Republican National Committee has been considering a 2024 convention in Nashville, but Milwaukee looks better all the time,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote in April.
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Nashville city officials aren’t necessarily keen on hosting, either. While the RNC could be a boon to Milwaukee’s hospitality industry, hotels in tourism-rich Nashville could actually take a hit. The city would not accept that loss, Mayor John Cooper said in March.
Now that Milwaukee is able to host, the city will have to wait for the Republican National Committee’s decision, which is expected to come before the end of the month.
“I like our chances, but we’ll see,” Shaikh said.