Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)
Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Democratic National Committee praised for the move to August 17 due to pandemic

The decision to delay the Democratic Party’s national nominating convention until August was a necessary step given growing concerns about the spread of a coronavirus pandemic that continues to spread throughout Wisconsin and the rest of the nation, party members, tourism officials and others said. 

The Democratic National Committee announced Thursday that the convention will be moved from the week of July 13 to the week of August 17 because of the continuing public health threat caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

As of Thursday, 1,730 people in Wisconsin had tested positive for the virus and at least 31 had died after contracting it. More than 200,000 in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19, and more than 4,300 have died.

Andrew Werthmann, a Wisconsin DNC member from Eau Claire, said the delay makes sense in light of the coronavirus outbreak public health officials say is likely to continue to spread for some time. 

“This decision makes a lot of sense from a public health standpoint,” Werthmann said, expressing frustration that the decision to delay the convention didn’t occur earlier given growing concerns about the spread of the virus. “We would be putting so many people at risk by having a huge event like this at this time.”

In fact, Werthmann said he questions whether the August date is far enough out into the future. 

“I hope by August things are safe enough to hold the convention, but right now I think that might be too ambitious,” he said, noting the DNC is discussing alternative options for how to stage the event differently in August.

State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, applauded the DNC host committee “for their clear prioritization of public health.” She added that she hopes Racine, just about 25 miles south of Milwaukee, will still be able to see a benefit from the convention.

Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Joe Solmonese agreed, saying “the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention.”

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said altering the convention date is evidence the committee is willing to make necessary changes because of  the COVID-19 crisis.

“Leadership means being able to adapt, and that’s exactly what our party is doing,” Perez said. 

However, Perez has attracted criticism in recent weeks for his continued insistence that the convention take place in July despite public health concerns related to coronavirus. 

The push to delay the event seemed to gain momentum after Vice President Joe Biden, the current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, indicated this week that the convention could not realistically be held as originally planned.

Wisconsin is a prime target for national Democrats given President Trump’s thin margin of victory here in 2016. The most recent statewide poll by the Marquette University Law School shows Trump and Biden in a statistical dead heat. 

Wisconsin 2nd District Congressman Mark Pocan was holding a previously scheduled conference call with media when the announcement was made. He said the decision will “give more time to see if you can have a convention and hopefully we will know much more, and we all will know much more by the end of April. So, if they think that’s the best guidance for the convention at this point, then I think that’s a good decision.”

Hotels, restaurants and taverns already hit hard by shutdowns because of COVID-19 may not have been open in time for a July convention, depending on the course of the virus. Colin Walsh, president of the Greater Milwaukee Hotel and Lodging Association, said public health concerns necessitated the delay of the convention. 

“We understand and appreciate the decision that was at hand and respect the action taken by the DNCC,” Walsh, said in a statement. 

Representatives of multiple chain and independent Milwaukee-area hotels declined to comment on the delay.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said moving the convention to August may be positive for progressives supportive of independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ platform because it will give Sanders more time to influence Biden’s and the Democratic party’s more moderate stances.

“I think it’s in Biden’s interest, if he’s the nominee, to seem to have adopted a number of the planks in order to pull progressives in,” Kraig said.

Holding a convention is already a daunting task because of the logistics involved in scheduling convention center space, hotels, flights, food and more for thousands of delegates, guests, press and VIPs. Now those plans will have to be shifted, and even then there may be ongoing challenges or concerns because of the pandemic.

Event organizers conceded those challenges but said they are confident those involved with putting on the convention, working with city of Milwaukee officials, can stage a top-flight event. 

The delay will pose other challenges too. Many convention goers said they have scheduled vacations in August, and now they will be forced to choose between those previously scheduled outings and the convention. Werthmann had planned to spend time in the Minoqua area at an annual family gathering, he said, but now will miss that trip up north for the new convention time. 

“It sucks, but a lot of people are going to face choices like that,” Werthmann said.

UpNorthNews reporters Jonathon Sadowski and Pat Kreitlow contributed to this report.