Politics & Government

Denver falling short for Dems?

For nearly a decade, city leaders here have wooed the Democrats, hoping to lure their national convention to this often-overlooked town.

Municipal leaders were jubilant when they won the right to host this year's event. But rather than putting Denver on the map, the convention is raising questions as to whether this perennial booster town has bitten off more than it can chew.

The host committee is as much as $10 million short in fundraising, and financial difficulties have forced it to cancel two dozen parties around town for delegates. Denver officials are scrambling to deal with the logistical challenges of Barack Obama's acceptance speech being held at an outdoor stadium instead of in the arena where the rest of the convention will occur. Even special daisies that the city bred partly to show off for the convention are failing to sprout.

Criticism has been so harsh that earlier this month the host committee felt compelled to issue a news release defending its much-mocked catering guidelines, which recommend organic produce and color-coordinated meals, and discourage fried food.

“It's an embarrassment, particularly for the political class,” said Floyd Ciruli, a former chairman of the state Democratic party who is now an independent pollster, unaffiliated with the convention effort. “At this point, everybody's thinking about the burdens rather than the benefits.”

Local political leaders and the host committee insist everything is fine.

“That's a little bit of white noise around the perimeter,” said Mayor John Hickenlooper. “Did we ever dream we'd have a candidate of this historic magnitude?”

Nonetheless, at a conference on Western issues last week, Hickenlooper referred to the event as the “blasted convention” and compared it to a summer he spent painting a house for which he was never paid. “If we'd known back then what we know now, we'd never have done it,” he said, before quickly adding, “and what an incredible shame that would have been.”

Last month the host committee said it was $10 million short of its $40 million target, and now it refuses to discuss fundraising totals.

Officials blame several factors: The drawn-out primary battle sapped would-be donors. The economic downturn has hit Denver hard because the city's corporate base includes struggling companies such as Frontier Airlines, which is reorganizing under bankruptcy protection. And business leaders say attention and money are being diverted by several union-led ballot initiatives that they are fighting, measures that they insist could destroy their livelihoods.