Last updated on May 11th, 2020 at 11:26 am
Raquel Filmanowicz came into her role as the new chief executive officer of the local host committee for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, to be held in Milwaukee, just in time for the COVID-19 coronavirus to rock the nation.
Last week, the 2020 DNC was moved from mid-July to mid-August due to the global pandemic, following the cancellations and postponements of other major events around the globe.
However, there are still questions about what the rescheduled convention will look like, the logistics for moving it to a new date, the likelihood of it actually being held and what impact it will have on Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
Now, Filmanowicz and Paula Penebaker, who was recently named the new chief operating officer of the committee, are tasked with navigating a public health and subsequent economic crisis while orchestrating a major political convention that Milwaukee has been anticipating for more than a year.
In an interview with BizTimes Milwaukee on Monday, Filmanowicz discussed her relatively new role and how the Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee is working to fulfill its promise to put on a successful convention this summer.
BizTimes: How has it been since assuming your position?
Filmanowicz: “It has been a whirlwind of a month. I just finished my fourth week on the job and three of those weeks I’ve been working from home and managing remote teams, so just right off the bat it’s been challenging, but it’s been a good challenge and I have a great team. They’re all very nimble and still very hard at work at our ultimate goal, which is to put on the best convention that we can in August. We announced the new date and so everybody’s kind of reenergized and hitting the ground running, and that’s our priority right now, while balancing the public’s health and safety.”
BizTimes: What does the current planning process look like?
Filmanowicz: “One of the top priorities of the DNCC is planning various scenarios for any convention, so (the host committee) along with the DNCC have been working closely on continuing those contingency plans around what a revised convention would look like in August.
“The public’s health and safety is of the utmost importance for us right now, so we continue to stay in very close communication with federal, state and local health officials as it relates to safeguarding the public’s health. And then the whole structure and adjusting the convention’s format will include adjustments possibly to crowd size and schedule, so that’s still yet to be determined, but more information will be coming out in the coming weeks and months.”
BizTimes: Joe Biden said on Sunday that the party “may have to do a virtual convention.” What’s your reaction to that kind of chatter from national party leaders?
Filmanowicz: “Our contingency planning had been occurring well ahead of the former vice president’s comments that were made, so for us, we are just continuing our work, continuing our planning, working with our partners. It doesn’t take away from the great announcement that we made on Thursday of postponing the date of the convention. We’ve gotten an over-abundance of positive feedback from every sector of the community.
“Folks are just happy that the convention will still go on and not be canceled, so we’re kind of relying on that feedback at the local level. Especially as CEO of the host committee, that’s my job to ensure that I help to highlight a community that we all know and love for the visitors that will be coming in August and that this is a vibrant, welcoming, diverse community for every visitor.”
BizTimes: You’ve already established yourself as a leader in the Milwaukee community. How does that inform you in your current role?
Filmanowicz: “It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to serve in this post for this historic event for the city of Milwaukee. I’ve made Milwaukee my home. I’ve raised my children here. I’ve been in the workforce for over 25 years and in public, private sectors. I’ve got a background in public health. So, I feel so honored to be able to lead this great team and this organization to nominate the next Democratic candidate for president of the United States. It’s a chance of a lifetime. It’s something I feel strongly about and especially here for Milwaukee.
“We are in unprecedented times, but that doesn’t take away from the excitement and enthusiasm that I and my team have for this convention in August.”
BizTimes: I’m sure your background in public health gives you an interesting perspective, especially right now.
Filmanowicz: “Well, we would plan for pandemics and preparedness efforts, but never in my lifetime today think we’d be experiencing a pandemic, so I give a lot of credit and kudos to the first responders, the health care workers, the public health professionals that are on the front lines managing and addressing this pandemic at the local level. They truly are the heroes, but yeah, it’s surreal, right?”
BizTimes: From a public health standpoint, is an August convention feasible?
Filmanowicz: “Again, we are going to monitor what our federal, state and local health officials share and guide us, but this postponement of the convention gives us several more weeks to plan those scenarios and, hopefully by August, we’ll be in good shape to put on a wonderful convention for our visitors and the residents of Milwaukee.”
BizTimes: What update can you provide on fundraising?
Filmanowicz: “Fundraising is going well. I’m not in a position to share specific numbers, but we feel confident that the funds raised will be able to put on a convention that Milwaukee and, really, the American people deserve. So, we’re in good shape. We’ve got an excellent fundraising team and we have a lot of local companies that have supported the convention early on and we just continue to work on fostering and cultivating those relationships week after week to help get us to our goal.”
BizTimes: What’s the current response from local corporate donors?
Filmanowicz: “I’m in close communication with a lot of the companies that have donated to the convention thus far and are still very, very positive. They see this as a great thing for Milwaukee. It’s hard to see what’s going on. A lot of companies in every sector have taken a hit with the pandemic and so we are hopeful that the convention in August will, as (Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett) says, will be the shot in the arm that we need to get economic bounce-back from what were experiencing right now.”
BizTimes: What would you tell businesses that are struggling during this time, but are depending on the DNC’s business through events, reservations, etc.?
Filmanowicz: “Every business is unique and I’ve read a lot of businesses are finding clever and unique ways to keep business and revenue going. We do have a vendor portal, a venue portal and volunteer portal on our host committee site, where a lot of these businesses have registered and so we have distributed information from the host committee to all those that are registered. We are in communication with them, but I’m optimistic, I’m hopeful and I just do hope that companies– restaurants and bars, everyone that’s registered will be able to benefit from the August convention.”
BizTimes: Will the DNC’s impact live up to the original economic impact that was promised to the region?
Filmanowicz: “In my view, this is still going back to making sure that our contingency planning aligns with what type of convention we will have as it relates to the format and crowd size and schedule– all that is still yet to be determined. But it’s my hope that this event in August will draw and provide an economic boost to our city.”
BizTimes: What needs to happen over the next four months to be able to pull off a successful convention?
Filmanowicz: “We’re going to continue to work very closely with our DNCC partners, and as the host committee, we’re going to continue our community outreach to diverse communities. We’re going to continue on the fundraising side, and really, those contingency planning efforts will come to life as far as what’s shared in the coming weeks and months about what this convention would look like.
“For us, we’ve never pumped the brakes on what we’ve been working on, but now it’s like, we have a date, we have a target, so it’s full steam ahead and getting to that finish line. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing pretty much, but all with the goal that we’re going to have the best convention and Milwaukee will be showcased as the gem that we all know it is.”
Get more news and insights in the March 30 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee: