The Republican National Committee site selection committee announced Tuesday it would recommend Cleveland to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Numerous Cleveland elected officials such as Mayor Frank Jackson were happily celebrating the news of the RNC coming to Cleveland, but perhaps no one benefits more than Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and Democratic nominee for governor who played an early role in bringing the convention to the city.
FitzGerald, the first county executive of Ohio’s most populous county and the home of Cleveland, showed an early interest in bringing a 2016 political convention to the city.
“I remember when Cleveland tried to get the convention in 1992,” FitzGerald told BuzzFeed about his quest to bring a political convention to the city.
It was FitzGerald, along with his chief of staff and David Gilbert, the president of Positively Cleveland, the region’s convention and visitors bureau, who took a day in Charlotte during their 2012 convention to see how Cleveland could get it to their city.
“The county executive was very involved in pushing for the convention,” Gilbert said. “It was a fact-finding trip. We met with everyone from the host committee, Chamber of Commerce, City of Charlotte…”
“When I went to Charlotte, I definitely said we can do as good or better than Charlotte,” said FitzGerald.
Cleveland has twice hosted the Republican presidential nominating convention. The 1924 convention nominated Calvin Coolidge, who went on to win reelection. In 1936, Kansas Governor Alf Landon was nominated, then crushed by Franklin Roosevelt, losing nearly every state (including Ohio).
FitzGerald said failed bids by Cleveland to host the convention in 2008 and 2012 made clear “we needed to get started very, very early putting a team together.”
While some people had felt “burned” in the past by failed bids, this bid, unlike past ones, “had county participation,” and eventually “people came around to this,” he said.
One of the reasons Cleveland needs the convention is that the city is one of the places where nationwide perception of it is most distorted from reality, FitzGerald argued.
“On a national political blog, they were talking about the river catching on fire,” he said. “They have some kind of perception that was formed in the 1970s, and it’s not reality.”
FitzGerald said a new 600-guest-room Hilton hotel coming to city in 2016, on which he broke ground this year with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Hilton executive Ted Ratcliff, was crucial to securing the city as a finalist. “One of the reasons given in the past was that our hotel capacity was too far below what their standards were,” FitzGerald said.
Asked how the perception and news of the convention coming to a city that is a reliable Democratic stronghold in the state will affect the city, FitzGerald the majority of people are happy about the economic boost it will provide: “The vast majority of people say the Republican convention has to come somewhere and it’s going to be an economic boost for the city. It might as well be here.”
FitzGerald says the effort and passion put forth by the city was what helped secure the convention.
“I knew that Dallas at the beginning could just put more money on the table,” he added.
“The RNC told us that we had the most powerful presentation.”