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DNC chair Tom Perez faces blowback over convention city pick — no matter where he goes

Perez is believed to prefer Milwaukee, but some DNC members say Houston would be a much better logistical choice.
Image: DNC Chair Tom Perez
The decision, due this month, is Perez's to make — with the advice of a site-selection committee — but he can ill afford to rankle large numbers of his membership.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez could face serious pushback from his members if he chooses to hold next year's party nominating convention in Milwaukee.

And for reasons as parochial as Perez's family ties to the state and as national as Democrats' need to win back Midwestern swing voters, Democratic insiders say they think he prefers that city over Houston and Miami, which are the other finalists.

They also note that Perez may want to appeal to billionaire donor Marc Lasry — a Milwaukee convention would be held at Fiserv Forum where the Milwaukee Bucks, co-owned by Lasry, play, and his son, Alex, is in charge of the city's bid.

"I think Perez is leaning more toward Milwaukee," said Marcus Mason, a former DNC member who remains close to the organization.

The decision, due this month, is his to make — with the advice of a site-selection committee — but he can ill afford to rankle large numbers of his membership.

The tension point is a view among some DNC members that Milwaukee might not be equipped to handle the needs of delegates in terms of hotel rooms in close proximity to the center of the convention action and easy transportation.

For now — with information about the bids hard to come by — some skeptics are publicly still open to Milwaukee making its case that the concerns are overblown.

"The logistics are a little hard," Deb Kozikowski, a DNC member from Massachusetts said while she attended the party's winter meeting here Friday. "Some people are going to be like an hour out. Some people might even be in another state for all I know. It’s not that I’m against Milwaukee. They’ve got to show me their stuff."

But there's a significant faction within the ranks — and the leadership — that prefers Houston.

Karen Carter Peterson, a vice chair of the DNC and the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said she has told Perez her primary concern is the experience of the delegates — including getting to hear from top figures at delegation breakfasts, particularly "if we have not settled on a nominee at that point."

"For example, if I want Doug Jones and Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to all come at some point in my three days to one of my breakfasts, those folks are making stops for multiple delegations, so it needs to be convenient for them to move around and hit five or six breakfasts in a two-hour span," she said. "If the hotels are 15, 25 miles apart, it makes it less likely."

Asked whether Houston was her preference, Peterson noted that she is from the South and then acknowledged, "I wouldn't disagree."

While hurricanes have disrupted national party conventions in the past — including a suspension of the 2008 GOP meeting in St. Paul, Minn., because of the threat Hurricane Gustav posed to the Gulf Coast more than 1,000 miles away — the carefully-selected mid-July dates for the 2020 Democratic convention fall before peak season for the violent storms that often hit Florida and Texas in the summer and fall.

A DNC official close to Perez said that all three cities remain in the running and that they were all chosen as finalists because they could handle a major party convention.

The official said Perez will face disappointment from DNC members who wanted other cities no matter which one gets the convention.

"It’s not going to be because one city is ill-equipped," the official said. "It’s going to be because their city didn’t get picked."

Milwaukee has its supporters in the ranks, too.

Mahlon Mitchell, a DNC member who has run unsuccessfully for statewide offices in Wisconsin, said he's lobbied Perez on behalf of his home state.

"Wisconsin’s a state that’s going to be a huge play when it comes to a presidential race, so I think we’ve got to have it in Wisconsin," he said.

Mitchell said he's heard the concerns about Milwaukee's ability to pull off a convention but said that it shouldn't be a problem.

And Nancy Monacelli, a DNC member from Walla Walla, Wash., said there are practical and political reasons to pick Milwaukee over Houston or Miami.

"I think being in the Midwest is kind of where we need to be," she said, noting that she got beer-can salt-and-pepper shakers as some of the swag provided for DNC members by the team lobbying for Milwaukee. "I think we need to show the flag and I think we need to demonstrate that we really do care about the issues facing middle America."

As for Houston in July, she said, "I start perspiring just thinking about it."