Several people deserve credit for convincing the Republican National Committee to hold their 2024 national convention in Milwaukee. They include: VISIT Milwaukee president and chief executive officer Peggy Williams-Smith, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former Gov. Scott Walker, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, Milwaukee Education Partnership executive director Gerard Randall, Fiduciary Management founder Ted Kellner, ABC Supply Co. co-founder and chair Diane Hendricks, Uline co-founder Elizabeth Uihlein, and others.
But the most interesting player in this deal is Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson. Despite being a Democrat, Johnson pushed aggressively to bring the RNC to Milwaukee. Leading a city populated overwhelmingly by Democratic voters, he’s had to spend some political capital as some residents and liberal groups have been critical of having the RNC in Milwaukee.
Some aldermen were reluctant to support an agreement with the RNC for the city to host the convention, but Johnson and others lobbied hard and it eventually received unanimous support from the Common Council. Meanwhile, Nashville, the other finalist city for the 2024 RNC, essentially took itself out of the running when its Metro Council voted down their proposed agreement for the convention.
Johnson has said that one of his goals is to improve the city’s relationship with the Republican-controlled state Legislature. His support of the 2024 RNC in Milwaukee can’t hurt.
RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel had high praise for Johnson calling him “outstanding,” “wonderful” and a “great mayor.” Striking comments considering how critical Republicans typically are of Democrat leaders of large American cities.
McDaniel also had high praise for Milwaukee, which she called a “world-class city.”
“I am personally so excited to go to Milwaukee for our convention,” she said. “We really picked a phenomenal city. … Everyone is going to want to come to Milwaukee after this convention.”
VISIT Milwaukee estimates the 2024 RNC will have a $200 million economic impact on the area, attracting an estimated 45,000 people to Milwaukee. Johnson made it clear he wants to attract many additional major events to the city, naming several including the NBA and Major League Baseball All-Star games.
“If you are a large-scale convention or a sports or entertainment event, we want you in Milwaukee,” he said. “Ronna and the RNC, you guys are the vanguard. You’re welcoming everybody in. That’s exactly what we want to see continue to happen in the city of Milwaukee.”
The RNC will provide tremendous media attention to Milwaukee and will be the city’s opportunity to show it can handle such huge events. The city missed that chance when the 2020 Democratic National Convention became a mostly virtual event due to COVID-19.
“Milwaukee is open for business,” Johnson said. “We are looking forward to hosting a number of world class events with the eyes and attention on our city in the years to come.”