National Democrats Looking to Sideline Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson in Planning For the Convention

News & Politics

National Democrats are deep into the planning for the convention in Chicago to be held in August. 

Biden’s planning team is looking wistfully at the 2020 COVID convention when most events were virtual and the chances for disruption were greatly reduced. They are looking for ways to duplicate some of those events, like the pre-recorded roll call vote where individuals representing state delegations got creative and made their video vote an advertisement for their state.


One big change being considered is a move to an alternate convention site for the actual nomination. Since Biden is having trouble getting on the ballot in Ohio because the convention occurs after the deadline to file in the Buckeye State, the Biden team is being forced to look at confirming Biden’s nomination at a “mini-convention” that would be held in McCormick Place prior to the main event at the United Center. Holding other housekeeping events at the alternate site would also make it harder for protesters to mass and cause trouble.

The Democrats can tightly control security at McCormick Place, preventing most floor disturbances.

“If there is one peep in that hall, the networks will be all over it,” a Biden convention planner said referring to the challenges of holding a national convention at the United Center.

One of the macabre jokes going around among planners of the convention is that the big difference between 1968 and 2024 is that the mayor is on the side of the protesters, not the cops. That’s true, as far as it goes. Mayor Brandon Johnson has been an outspoken proponent of a ceasefire in Gaza and has demonstrated shocking incompetence in the way he has handled the migrant crisis. 

But he sure knows how to stir the pot. Earlier this week, he was asked to comment on remarks by Illinois Senator and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, who worries about the protests getting out of hand.

“If there’s any mayor that understands the value of protest and demonstration, it’s me,” Johnson told reporters earlier this week. Johnson said, “Without protests and real demands of a government, people of color and women do not have a place in society.”


So, yes. national Democrats are worried.


Johnson praised the importance of protecting free speech and initially said that was paramount to safety, which he called “second most important,” before seeming to recognize his error.

When I asked him what his vision of a successful Democratic convention looked like, Johnson repeated the same formulation — “safe, vibrant and energetic” — before saying he wanted young people to “see what democracy really looks like.”

At no point did he mention Joe Biden or the importance of the convention in helping the president’s reelection.

It was an eye-opening exchange. And it made clear why so many Democrats, in Chicago and beyond, respond to questions about Johnson with a sigh and hope that he’ll recognize the weight of this moment, both for his career, the city and the country.

Biden’s team has apparently given up on Johnson and will work through the office of Governor J.B. Pritzker. Johnson and Pritzker hate each other and when Pritzker wrested control of the host committee from Johnson, he threw the mayor a small bone when he allowed a top aide to Johnson to sit on the committee. But it’s clear that Pritzker is freezing Johnson out of controlling any aspect of the convention.

The biggest concern of the convention planners is about protests inside the venue rather than outside.

What alarms some Democratic strategists is the evolution of this era’s protests. Protesters are savvier — they’ve managed to get inside dozens of events featuring the president and vice president — and their demonstrations also include some bad actors who are determined to provoke a reaction.

In anticipation of some protesters obtaining tickets, convention organizers said they’ll stage a war room and be prepared to drown them out with chants — “four more years” is always a standby — and block any banners with Biden-Harris signs.

That’s all how to manage the convention itself.


How much will the national media cover for Biden and the Democrats? The media will be torn between the newsworthiness of protests inside and outside the United Center which will attract viewers and their ideological bias not to give Trump any advantages.

During the George Floyd era, we got “mostly peaceful” protests. I wonder what we’ll get this time?

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