In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so: The Democratic National Convention is about to take over downtown Philadelphia, bringing with it some 50,000 delegates, elected officials, reporters and political junkies. On many levels, it will be awesome – the “Super Bowl of politics,” as state Sen. (and Hillary Clinton delegate) Daylin Leach puts it. On many others, it’s going to be a nightmarish circus of humanity and
Let’s acknowledge the donkey in the room right off the bat: You’re not ready for what awaits you – but that’s OK, neither are some of the elected officials we talked to. Let City & State Pennsylvania be your guide for who to meet, which yacht party to board and, of course, how to creatively make your way
into the DNC.
Visitors touching down in PHL have the convenient option of taking commuter trains downtown for just $8 – or, at least, they did until recently, when a manufacturer’s defect took one-third of SEPTA’s train cars out of commission. The transit authority says it will have 125 buses on hand
to accommodate the crush.
Delegates should have the option of private shuttle buses to their hotels, but the average Bernie Sanders supporter might be stuck with the slowest, most crowded form of socialist public transportation available. Monied lobbyists flying in to give Clinton their regards can at least expense a ride via Uber or Lyft, which are both now legal in Philadelphia.
Ride-sharing isn’t the only activity to get a pass during the convention: drinking after the normal 2 a.m. last call will also be allowed, as will certain minor crimes frequently slapped on protesters, like disorderly conduct and public drunkenness – although the latter might be designed to avoid uncomfortable police encounters with a sauced congressman or George Clooney.
So, don’t let anyone tell you Philly doesn’t roll out the red carpet when enormously powerful out-of-town guests – and the city itself – are under intense public scrutiny. But while the city may be taking a soft line on ridesharing, Philadelphia’s Unified Taxi Workers Alliance says real Democrats shouldn’t take that Uber.
Blount’s group wants ride-sharing barred in Philadelphia until their contract workers are reclassified as full-time employees, and is actively working to get delegates to add that plank to the Democratic platform.
“You may get an Uber ride for $4 or $5, and I’m sure the consumer and investors will be happy, but that poor driver is going to be taking the only thing he owns and making less than minimum wage,” he said. “I think it’s cruel.”
Blount added that, under another agreement worked out with organizers, volunteers from the city’s construction unions would be assigned to shuttle delegates around as another alternative to ride-sharing services.
With the DNC split between day events at the downtown Convention Center and delegate nights at South Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, organizers have arranged shuttle bus service. But with hundreds of other events at smaller venues across the city, many Pennsylvania delegates said they expect to be hoofing it on the city’s walkable street grid.
“I’m going to be wearing my FitBit,” said Philadelphia City Councilwoman and Clinton delegate Blondell Reynolds Brown, “And I expect to get my 10,000 steps
in every day.”
Get a room
Even local delegates like Leach, who resides in Lower Merion, have been given a chance to snatch up blocks of hotel rooms booked by each state delegation. Leach said he’ll be taking a room at the DoubletreeHotel alongside his fellow delegates from the Keystone State.
“Even though it’s in Philly, and I live in Philly, given all these things to do, that’s 20 or 25 minutes of commuting time that I really don’t have,” he said. “It’s easier for me to take a shuttle.”
But others are going to be braving SEPTA’s trains and buses from their homes in the city and suburbs.
“I’m staying at home and reporting to the hotel at 8 a.m.,” said Brown.
Out-of-town visitors won’t have that option, and virtually all of the city’s more than 15,000 hotel rooms are booked. Convention organizers have been suggesting latecomers resort to AirBnB to find a
place to stay.
One option is “Anthony,” who’s renting out an unremarkable rowhome in South Philadelphia during the convention – for a cool $36,000. His listing still proclaims the unit is close to the staging area for last year’s papal visit, when price gouging for beds
“It’s my home and it has four bedrooms,” he said in a recent AirBnB exchange. “I’m open to an offer … call me and I’ll tell you why it’s the best.”
The unit is decidedly on the high end for pricing, but similar homes, and even the odd bedroom, were going for around $1,000 a night at last check. There’s no doubt that housing will be tight, and some visitors have resorted to less traditional forms of exchange to find a
place to crash.
“Need a room/shelter/floor for the Philly DNC Convention, I offer food (groceries) instead of money, I offer s-e-x...making love instead of money,” reads one ad on Craigslist. “I offer temporary companionship, friendship, or whatever-ship possible.”
The ad was placed by a DNC volunteer from Connecticut, who asked to remain anonymous. The individual said the post was only semi-serious, but the response to the ad has been “overwhelming,” and that it had led to about 15 offers for places to stay.
“Only two or three wanted sex,” the volunteer said via email. “Everyone else wants housework or pets to be walked, or
First off: don’t worry about being bored.
“As a delegate, you’re invited to far more things than you could ever go to,” said Leach. “If I’m good, I’ll wake up at 6 a.m. and try to get an hour of exercise. Then you have breakfast in your hotel with the delegation and a guest speaker. Maybe one day it’s Joe Biden, then the governor of New Mexico. Personally, I think swing states get better speakers.”
After that comes a barrage of nearly 300 publicly advertised events spanning all four days. Leach, who’s attending his eighth convention, said he tries to narrow events down by his political interests – he’s been a big supporter of decriminalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania. So, he’ll likely be attending at least one of two weed-centric events: the Drug Policy Alliance’s DNC Welcome Reception; and a Marijuana Policy Project fundraiser for Oregon Congressman Eric Blumenauer at the
“Back when I started in the 1980s, legalization was a pipe dream. It wasn’t really a thing then. You can tell the movement has come a long way,” he said, noting the MPP’s swanky digs at one of Philadelphia’s most exclusive
Freshman Philadelphia City Councilman Derek Green, another Clinton delegate, said he’ll be busy acting as an organizer for four of the 300-odd events. A “Latinx” event Green is co-hosting at the African American Museum, to celebrate African and Latino culture, already has over 700 RSVPs.
“It’s a combination of work to some degree,” he said of his philosophy on the convention. “I’m trying to have some opportunities to network with people and talk about
Other local pols are using the DNC as a platform for particular issues. Philadelphia City Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez will emcee a “PA4PR” event to draw attention to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. The Philadelphia Asian American and Pacific Islander community will host a dim sum dinner in Chinatown to meet with national delegates. Several members of City Council, including Brown, will host a Black Congressional leadership dinner at Del Frisco’s steakhouse, with African-American legislators from around the country.
Congressman Bob Brady will host a rager (invites provocatively list the event time as “9pm to ???”), in true Philadelphia blue collar fashion, at the Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall. Mayor Jim Kenney will host a $500-a-head fundraiser at Popi’s Restaurant in South Philly. Councilman Kenyatta Johnson will host a yacht party on the Delaware River. Vice President Joe Biden is rumored to be planning a VIP dinner downtown at the swanky French
And then there’s celebrity-watching. Snoop Dogg, a Clinton supporter, is hosting a Democratic unity concert, as are Lady Gaga, Ben Vereen and Alicia Keys.
“It’s surreal,” said Leach. “I’ve gotten into political arguments with Rob Lowe and Morgan Fairchild. You walk into a party and its sort of surreal. It’s Dan Rather and Barbara Streisand and there’s George Clooney over there. My kids want me to meet the
Kardashians this year.”
And there are a string of events and speeches on the convention floor, but attending these events is no sure thing. Leach said that in his pre-delegate convention days, it was tough to get into the biggest and best events
on the floor.
“The big issue with these events is credentials,” he explained. “Access – everyone’s scrambling to get access. I would go up with only my charm and I spent a lot of time negotiating, trying to get security to like me. So, this year, you’ll have Sanders people giving credentials away to Hillary people in exchange for access to other events and vice versa. Guest passes are like the cigarettes at the DNC.”
Get things done
Perhaps the most important thing to do, as delegates truck nightly to the Wells Fargo Center, is hash out an actual platform for political change within a party rocked by Bernie Sanders’ movement to draw the party further to the left.
So, for some, beneath the circus-like exterior, the DNC holds a more solemn meaning. For Malcolm Kenyatta, a 25-year-old African-American from North Philadelphia who won a Clinton delegate slot, it’s a chance to highlight the grim poverty and racial oppression many in his neighborhood, just beyond Philadelphia’s polished downtown convention façade, face every day. It’s a part of the city that most delegates will never see. Kenyatta said he wants to be the messenger for that reality of life in Philadelphia.
“There are some places I could take you where people are living in Third World-level conditions. Just imagine if you unleashed the potential of people surviving in Third World conditions right now,” he said. “I don’t see the DNC as an opportunity to, like, just come and drink. This is an opportunity while we have a lot of people here with a lot of influence and import … And I want to say, ‘What
about North Philly?’”