Philadelphia feels very strongly about its meetings business. Not just the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), but the City of Brotherly Love’s entire community of leaders — who showed up in force during a Democratic National Convention–themed press trip that PHLCVB hosted last week. The DNC opened in Philly just yesterday, meaning the CVB has had a lot on its mind, but that didn’t stop them from putting together a substantial itinerary for us, showcasing some of the venues, hotels, restaurants, and meeting and event professionals who will be accommodating the DNC.
Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, former governor of Pennsylvania, and chair of the Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee, was there, leading reporters on a bus tour of PoliticalFest, a nonpartisan, citywide exhibit celebrating politics and government. PHLCVB hoped the current mayor, Jim Kenney, would stop by to say hello during dinner at Parc, a wonderful French brasserie and bar in Rittenhouse Square — which he did, and then sat down and ate with us. He turned out to be a great dinner guest, plainspoken and unaffected, batting away any attempt at “Mr. Mayor” with “Jim,” and responding to a question about how well the city is prepared for the DNC with a happily on-the-record “We’ve got our shit together.”
Over a relaxed meal (he had the roast chicken, and asked for his leftovers to go), Kenney was happy to talk about anything, from what the DNC means for Philadelphia, to who he thinks was the worst U.S. president. (That would be Andrew Jackson, because he was a “genocidal maniac.”)
WHAT IT MEANS So, what does Kenney — a Philly native who served on the City Council when the city hosted the 2000 Republican National Convention — think the DNC means for his hometown? “Return on investment,” he said. “It’s a way to continue to promote the convention center, our hotels, our nightlife. You’re bringing in 50,000 people who are movers and shakers, writers, thinkers. It’s great publicity for the city.”
MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO Meeting U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the only surviving member of the Big Six civil-rights leaders and one of the original Freedom Riders, whose skull was fractured by police while he was leading a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. “He’s the last one,” Kenney said. “When we start losing those guys, their oral histories….” He trailed off, shaking his head.
BIGGEST WORRY Of the many challenges involved in hosting the 2016 DNC, Kenney was most concerned about the intense “national climate” surrounding this year’s presidential election and how it might interfere with the public’s exercise of the First Amendment. “The anger, the nastiness — that’s what I worry about,” he said. “How many protesters will we have? What times?… No matter what people are saying or how loud they’re saying it, it’s our job to keep them safe.”