Editorial: Democrats are nervous about the city and its mayor. Will the DNC really be 'live from Chicago'?

The Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Op Eds

Chicago and the Democratic Party do not have identical agendas when it comes to the upcoming Democratic National Convention. Chicago’s agenda as host city is to reap economic benefits from all the media attention and look like a desirable place in which to live, vacation and do business. The Democratic Party’s agenda is to ensure the reelection of President Joe Biden and boost the prospects of other Democratic candidates, especially those in tight races.


On the one hand, conventions are an opportunity. On the other, they present risks. Especially this year.

Democratic bosses know that most politically undecided Americans don’t like the aggression and chaos on many American campuses from protests over the Israel-Hamas war, and they do not want to see the party or the president in the protesters’ thrall. They also know that protesters have infiltrated many restricted places over the last several weeks, and the last thing they want is boos for Biden erupting inside the United Center, where it will look not so much like a Chicago problem as a Democratic Party problem.

They’ve figured something else out too. Chicago’s activist mayor is sympathetic to the pro-Palestinian protesters and likes to refer to the police as an entity separate from himself rather than under his control. Thus, he cannot be counted on to protect the convention and the party’s prospects.

Some of those fears are articulated in a Politico article by Jonathan Martin published Friday that has the distinct aura of a deliberate trial balloon.

Citing various sources, named and unnamed, including old Chicago hands such as Bill Daley, Martin suggests that the Democrats are in full-on risk mitigation mode and planning on holding as few “live from Chicago” events as they can get away with. The last convention, in 2020, was, of course, a virtual affair by necessity, and some of those techniques, such as video cutaways to other locations, could be resurrected. Prerecorded means risk-free. More specifically, the piece suggests that the Dems are seriously considering using a pretaped delegation roll call from each state, as was the case in 2020.


As Martin writes, that means “one less opportunity for hot mic spontaneity, and therefore disruption.”

That may well be. But for a party that likes to cloak itself in the importance of grassroots democracy, unlike those other guys, “hot mic spontaneity” is supposed to be something that is embraced, not feared. And if the nervous Nellies at the White House get their way, some of this might backfire. During the Ronald Reagan years and beyond, the Democrats often accused Republicans of trying to minimize anything they could not tightly control. Apparently, the worm has turned.

From Chicago’s point of view, if the city is reduced to little more than a drone shot and minimal live activities, that’s bad for the city and us. People will figure out why. No one is suggesting Biden won’t accept the nomination live at the United Center, but a convention definitionally implies a substantial amount of on-site, in-person activity. That’s why host cities go to all the trouble and expense of hosting. Democrats clearly have to walk a fine line here, which is why we suspect they were adjusting expectations via an assist from Politico.

As for City Hall, it clearly needs to step up. Job one is to communicate that the mayor’s activist proclivities notwithstanding, the Democrats have nothing to fear when it comes to security and that the man who declares he speaks for the city will in August be on the side of the uniformed officers who work for him, not those who might set out to confound and disrupt.


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