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Lack of Unionized Hotel Workers in Denver Will Hurt its Chances of Landing
 the 2008 National Democratic Convention; UNITE HERE Has 13 Organized
 Hotels in Downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul
By Tim Nelson, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Aug. 29, 2006 - The city once thought to be the front-runner for the 2008 Democratic National Convention may be flagging, and Minnesota organizers say they're more hopeful than ever they'll overtake Denver in the quest to host the gathering.

Two of Colorado's top convention organizers publicly acknowledged over the weekend that the lack of unionized hotel workers in Denver could hurt its chances of landing the national Democratic gathering.

"It would be extremely out of character" for party officials to pick a host site that didn't have a union hotel, the head of Denver's bid for the DNC told the Denver Post, acknowledging that union opposition may play a role in the selection process.

Unions have yet to organize a single hotel in Denver, although the convention doesn't open for another two years. Debbie Willhite, a Democratic activist who's serving as the director of Denver's bid, did not respond to inquiries about the issue Monday.

By comparison, the labor group representing hotel workers in Minnesota, UNITE HERE, lists 13 organized hotels in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Twin Cities officials expect to use about 95 hotels in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Bloomington to house visitors, with a combination of buses, shuttles and taxis to move people.

A Twin Cities bid for the rival Republican National Convention in 2008 could also be a factor. The party that doesn't hold the presidency customarily picks its convention venue first.

Republicans have been showing keen interest in the Twin Cities, and there have even been public suggestions by outside commentators that both parties meet in Minnesota.

The Democrats' request for proposals includes an exclusivity clause requiring the winning host city to "end all negotiations with any other national party," a restriction Republicans do not have.

The exclusivity clause and the four-day gap between the two gatherings probably rule out both conventions coming to the Twin Cities in 2008.

In the meantime, four senior Democratic Party officials returned to the Twin Cities last week, inquiring about the region's bus inventory and literally counting parking spaces outside St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, the venue party officials have said they'd like if they come to Minnesota.

"There are a couple of pieces to the puzzle yet, a couple of outstanding things yet to be resolved, but we're confident that we have a great shot at hosting at least one of these conventions," said Erin Dady, St. Paul's marketing director.

She said Minnesota organizers will mail a "best offer" to Democratic Party officials, probably on Friday, ahead of a Sept. 5 deadline for the paperwork.

Party spokesman Damien LaVera, a member of the initial delegation to the Twin Cities, said Monday a site selection delegation is making a standard follow-up visit to all three cities on the short list to host the 2008 gathering. The third candidate is New York City.

LaVera declined to characterize the questions put to Minnesota or any other organizers and also declined to discuss any deadline for responses. "We're asking all the cities to provide the last answers to various questions," LaVera said.

But follow-up responses and the fine print in the party's site inquiry could be the keys to the Democrats' 2008 site selection.

The Democratic National Committee's request for proposals includes a provision that "unions of various jurisdictions will not engage in any work stoppage or similar action that would disrupt the convention" in return for the party's exclusive use of union labor "whenever available."

And although the Democrats did convene in Atlanta, a nonunion city, in 1988, the Denver Area Labor Federation said earlier this year it will oppose the city's 2008 bid unless it can successfully organize at least some of the city's hotel workers.

The newly opened Hyatt Denver Convention Center Hotel seems to be a particular sticking point.

The 37-story, 1,100-room, publicly financed hotel would play a key role in a Colorado convention but has been buffeted by labor issues at a number of junctures since the project began in 2002.

Leslie Moody, president of the Denver labor group, did not return a call for comment Monday.

Both parties are expected to make their choices sometime this fall after midterm elections.

Tim Nelson can be reached at tnelson@pioneerpress.com or 651-292-1159.

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Copyright (c) 2006, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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