DNC officials to visit Mpls., a finalist for 2012 conventionby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Minneapolis is one of four finalists to host the 2012 Democratic National convention, which will prompt a visit to the city July 18 by the Democratic National Committee.
Dominated by Democrats, Minneapolis has hosted big events before. But some worry about a repeat of problems that occurred in 2008, when St. Paul hosted the Republican National Convention.
City officials propose hosting the convention at the Metrodome, which Mayor R.T. Rybak said is a good spot because it is not far from hotels, the Hiawatha light rail line and various downtown entertainment attractions.
Rybak said recently that the dome site would allow law enforcement to create a security perimeter that would not interfere with the heart of the downtown business district.
"You really wind up closing down a few blocks of your city," the mayor said. "We learned it was complicated at Xcel. We know that if we had it at Target Center, in Minneapolis, the same thing would happen. I'm not planning to shut down Target Field or the warehouse district or the center of downtown."
Rybak is referring to one of the major problems that plagued businesses located close to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the site of the 2008 Republican National Convention. The security perimeter blocked customer traffic to the area, and local bars and restaurants suffered.
Still, organizers of the 2008 RNC estimate the convention brought in about $170 million to the region. The mayor said that kind of money is a big boost to the hospitality industry which employs thousands of people.
"This is a really good thing for this area -- aside from all the prestige and the fun of it. It's tough stuff," Rybak said. "We learned a lot last time. I think we get it and I think we can do a good job and I think we can make some money on it."
But some worry about the disruption and heavy police presence that accompanies political conventions.
"The people who are wishing to attract the DNC basically want to sell hotel rooms at the expense of civil liberties," said Dave Bicking, a member of a group called NO DNC.
For Bicking and other convention opponents, DNC also stands for Do Not Come. He said the group opposes the massive law enforcement presence that accompanies national political conventions. Law enforcement officials arrested nearly 700 people during the RNC in 2008.
Prosecutors dropped most of the charges but eight people, including Bicking's daughter, are awaiting trial. Known as the RNC 8, they have all been charged with conspiring to riot and commit criminal damage.
The courts are also busy with lawsuits filed by protesters and others caught in mass arrests. They accuse local police of violating their civil rights. At least one class-action suit of more than a hundred plaintiffs is in the courts. Bicking doesn't want to see a repeat in 2012.
"We've seen what's happened at the RNC, and we don't want that happening in our city or anywhere else again," he said. "So we don't feel the city should be inviting that kind of control and that kind of repression into our city."
Even though the DNC would occur in a city where a majority of the elected leaders lean left, Bicking said there will still be protests. He said as long as the United States is involved in wars, there will be anti-war demonstrations.
Like Bicking, Minneapolis city council member Cam Gordon also has concerns about the massive law enforcement presence that the convention would bring. Gordon voted against a resolution to authorize the city's bid for the DNC. But he might be persuaded to support the convention if the public safety plan doesn't unfairly restrict the First Amendment rights of protesters.
Gordon also wants local law enforcement agencies to have more control than they did in 2008.
"A lot of the local authority over the police force was taken away by a joint task force, the way I understand it, which is basically the federal government," Gordon said. "I guess it's understandable to a degree. But I was hoping that we would at least have access to the security plan and at least our police chief could approve the security plan."
The DNC is also considering Charlotte, N.C., Cleveland and St. Louis for the convention. DNC officials are expected to make their choice sometime before the end of the year.