Milwaukee largely left out of virtual DNC program

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Fifteen minutes was how long it took the Democrats to first mention Milwaukee during the opening night of the party’s all-virtual 2020 convention, which kicked off Monday.

It was when the program’s host, actress Eva Longoria Baston, introduced U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, who spoke for about 90 seconds live from the Wisconsin Center, which houses the convention’s video control center.

“We had hoped to have our convention in the city of festivals, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this year,” said Longoria. “Of course, we’re not able to do that, but we’ll be hearing from several of Wisconsin’s leaders throughout this convention, starting with Congresswoman Gwen Moore.”

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Moore, who represents Wisconsin’s 4th congressional district, used her air time as the only state elected official speaking Monday night to paint a picture of Milwaukee’s heritage.

“I sure wish you all were here in the city of Milwaukee, which takes its name from the languages of the first peoples, interpreted as ‘Good Land’ and ‘Gathering Place by the Water.’ This is a city where blood was shed for labor rights, where a fugitive slave was freed from prison, where women’s right to vote was first ratified,” she said.

Beyond Moore’s speech, other references to Milwaukee and Wisconsin during the two-hour live stream were limited to an opening graphic of an outdated city skyline from 2017, a brief video message submitted by a Wisconsin voter named Debra (as part of a collection of user generated videos from across the country), and another video submission from Thelma Sias, retired vice president of local affairs at We Energies.

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Before being upended by COVID-19 pandemic, the four-night Democratic National Convention was to be held in Milwaukee and was expected to bring 50,000 visitors to town and generate $200 million in economic impact to the area.

The DNC’s first couple of days here in Milwaukee have presented quite a contrast, with heavy security and some closed streets as the main indicators of the convention’s physical presence. Downtown bars and restaurants are far from packed. The media presence around the convention site is also scarce, there’s a handful international media that have made the trek, including Czech Republic TV outlet Ceska Televise.

It’s clear that the convention’s all-virtual format, which came with a new brand as ‘Convention Across America,’ has greatly reduced Milwaukee’s once coveted role as host city, even from an exposure standpoint.

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VISIT Milwaukee estimates that what’s left of in-person DNC activity will have a $3 million economic impact on the city, and convention-related visitors will use about 4,000 hotel room nights this week.

“This is at a much needed time,” said Kristin Settle, senior director of communications and public affairs at VISIT Milwaukee, in reference to the loss area hotels have suffered this year at the hands of the coronavirus.

She said the tourism bureau wants local businesses and residents to know that work is being done to capitalize on what remains the opportunity to have Milwaukee’s name attached to a major political convention, and that “we’re not sitting here crying into our beer.”

The visitors bureau has produced two 30-second commercials that are currently being shown to party caucuses and hopefully, Settle said, to the convention’s national audience.

She said VISIT is working with the Mayor’s office and convention organizers to get the commercials worked into the DNC’s official programming over the next three nights on as many local and national channels as possible.

The convention is being streamed nightly, from the Milwaukee control room, on more than a dozen platforms, including, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon Prime Video as well as traditional television broadcasts.

Although Milwaukee didn’t get the convention of its dreams, VISIT has already seen an increase of event bookings for next year as a result of the city being selected as host. And there could be an up side of the convention’s new format, she said.

“The truth is, this is going to open up a lot of doors for future business as well because we are the first city ever to host an entirely virtual political convention… I think it’s going to be a really good opportunity to showcase what can be done virtually and what the future of hybrid and virtual conventions is going to look like,” she said.

Tuesday’s prime time programming will be gaveled in by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Other local officials scheduled to make appearances this week include DNC Secretary Jason Rae, Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

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