Republicans just a few weeks ago were scouring major cities across the country to find a new location for their national convention, scheduled for mid-August. The GOP had originally planned to congregate in Charlotte North Carolina, but the governor set extremely strict standards for any type of large gathering. President Trump seems dead set on going to a more friendly environment. New Orleans was initially in the running.
There is a huge financial stake involved, with some 40,000 conventioneers projected to be attendance at wherever the location may be. The economic impact is estimated to be well over $200 million. Such conventions prove to be a huge financial generator for hotels, restaurants, cab drivers, bars and a whole host of local of entertainment options the fuel the local economy of any convention city.
And hands-down, New Orleans is the best convention city in the country. Hosting a convention at the Superdome makes it easy for those in attendance to walk from any hotel in the downtown area. Good restaurants, the French Quarter, the Riverwalk, the World War II museum, and many other attractions are all close at hand. No other city can offer such accessibility.
In 1988, the GOP gathered in New Orleans at the Superdome to pick their nominee. An old friend had a box suite and invited me to join him there to watch the festivities. The President to be, George H.W. Bush, had just completed his acceptance speech and the suite emptied out. I lingered to watch all the celebrating, when the door opened and Senator Bob Dole walked in.
Dole had lost the nomination to Bush in a heated battle marked by some sharp exchanges. The Kansas Senator had won the first battle in the Iowa Caucuses, with Bush finishing third. But Bush recovered and was unopposed for the nomination at the convention.
“Sorry, I must be lost,” he said. “There’s supposed to be a suite where I can sit a bit, but I’ve forgotten the number.” “Senator, you’re welcome to relax here.” I offered him a drink and we sat and watched the jubilation and TV commentary. You could tell he was wishing he could have been the nominee taking on Governor Dukakis in the coming fall election.
“Dukakis is leading in the polls now.” I asked, “Can Bush win?” Dole paused for a moment, and said: “Yes, I believe he will. But that promise about ‘read my lips — no new taxes.’ That may come back to haunt him in the future if he is elected.”
The Senator was right on the mark. That promise was a big factor in Bill Clinton’s victory over the incumbent President four years later.
Under normal circumstances, New Orleans would have been an easy sell for Republicans. Louisiana is a red state, with President Trump receiving some of his highest ratings down here in the deepest of the deep southern states. The clinker of course was whether the state could be ready to take in 40,000 visitors with the coronavirus hanging an uncertain cloud over the city and the surrounding area. The governor and the mayor just didn’t feel comfortable in lifting current restrictions to allow such a gathering.
There are trade-offs and dangers in bringing huge crowds to New Orleans. COVID-19 had an early spread compared to most states in the spring follow the following the influx of visitors for Mardi Gras. There were tough decisions to make weighing the safety of local residents and whether the economic benefits of thousands of conventioneers were worth the risk.
The Republicans opted for Jacksonville Florida, and despite the economic losses, it probably worked out for the best. Louisiana still has a long way to go in curtailing COVID-19. Hopefully, it won’t be too long until such opportunities come again under a safer environment.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.