2020 Democratic National Convention postponed until August

Event structure still in question amidst global health crisis

Host committee chair Alex Lasry, DNC chairman Tom Perez, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, along with other city and party leaders, celebrate after announcing that Milwaukee will host the 2020 Democratic National Convention. 

Last updated on April 3rd, 2020 at 11:06 am

The 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee has been postponed until the week of August 17 due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, convention organizers announced Thursday.

The major political convention was originally scheduled for July 13 to 16. Pushing it back buys organizers more time to “determine the most appropriate structure for this historic event,” according to a news release. 

Questions have been circulating recently about the July convention as major events around the world have been canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe 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,” said Joe Solmonese, chief executive officer of the Democratic National Convention Committee in a statement. “During this critical time, when the scope and scale of the pandemic and its impact remain unknown, we will continue to monitor the situation and follow the advice of health care professionals and emergency responders.”

The 2020 DNC was originally expected to bring 50,000 visitors and $250 million in economic impact to the region. Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee is its main venue, but an estimated 2,500 ancillary events were also being planned at venues across the city and state before and during the convention.

Despite uncertainty around the convention’s restructured schedule and format, Solmonese and DNC Chair Tom Perez both expressed the party’s commitment to Milwaukee as host city and Wisconsin as a key swing state in the upcoming election.

“We remain inspired by the people who live and work here, and we remain committed to hosting this historic moment in their hometown,” said Solmonese.

“The city of Milwaukee has been an incredible partner, especially over the past few weeks as we’ve confronted this global crisis, and we couldn’t be more committed to highlighting Wisconsin as a key battleground state, as it is at the center of so many of Trump’s broken promises,” said Perez.

Thursday’s announcement comes after former Vice President Joe Biden, who is the current front runner for the party’s nomination, acknowledged during an interview with MSNBC that a traditionally formatted convention could be in jeopardy.

State party leaders later expressed agreement, calling for a decision to be made from the top.

Up until Thursday’s announcement, public statements from the DNCC, Solmonese and Perez had centered on certainty that the convention would take place as originally planned.

Perez in a March 9 interview with “Axios on HBO” said possible alternative formats, including moving the convention to an online event, would require changing party rules, and that the party was not considering rules changes.  

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

He said the health and safety of convention attendees and people of Milwaukee is priority and will remain so as organizers communicate with health officials and monitor the ongoing health crisis.

The DNC’s postponement was well received by local leaders who have long touted the convention as a major win for the city’s economy and exposure on an international stage.

“I consider this extremely good news and I think it’s a sign of how sensitive the Democratic National Committee is to the health needs not only of our residents, but the health needs of the people of this nation,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett during a video press briefing Thursday afternoon.

Barrett said the decision underscores the party’s commitment to Wisconsin and Milwaukee. He called it a shot in the arm for local businesses.

“They know we’ve put a lot of work into this,” he said. “They know this is something important to us.”

However, the upcoming convention has taken a back seat to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak over the past six weeks as the city works to address a public health and concurrent economic crisis.

“By having this additional month of breathing room, we are hoping then to pivot once we are moving out of these turbulent waters and use this as a very important shot in the arm to moving this community forward,” said Barrett.

Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, praised convention organizers for keeping the convention in Milwaukee while working to keep the public safe.

“Hosting the Democratic National Convention in August will be key to the city’s economic recovery once the cloud of COVID-19 has lifted,” said Williams-Smith. “I look forward to working with the DNCC and the Host Committee to ensure the event is successful.”

This is a developing story.

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Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe Meyer started as an intern reporter at BizTimes in summer 2015. She currently covers entertainment, sports, tourism and restaurants. In May 2017, she graduated with a journalism degree from Marquette University where she worked as an in-depth projects reporter for the Marquette Wire and Marquette Tribune.