The bus from the Palace Hotel in east Midtown had taken only 16 minutes to get to downtown Brooklyn in the heat of midday New York City traffic, and because the bus was ferrying delegates from the Democratic National Committee who would decide if they would bring their 2016 convention to the city’s biggest borough, this relatively easy commute was cause for celebration.
And so when the dozen or so delegates stepped off the bus Monday at the entrance to the Barclays Center, the gleaming new basketball arena that, depending on who you ask, has come to symbolize Brooklyn’s rebirth or its ruin, they were greeted triumphantly by Chuck Schumer, who proudly calls himself the first senator from Brooklyn in over a century.
“Welcome, welcome to Brooklyn,” the senator sang as each delegate descended from the bus. Schumer, who for a day at least was the borough’s designated chief cheerleader, shouted out their hometowns in turn as the delegates told him where they hailed from, as if hearing the names rendered in the distinct twang of Brooklyn would provide some of the comforts of home.
“Miami! D.C., OK! Broooooookkklllllynnn,” rang out as one local got off the bus and fell into Schumer’s waiting embrace. “I’ve lived here for 63 years and it keeps getting better and better.”
As a crowd of Brooklynites gathered around the perimeter of the Barclays Center and gawked, the delegates stepped onto a long blue carpet (to distinguish from Republican red, see?), followed by a local high school marching band and step team, which serenaded the streets with “Celebrate” and other horn-heavy hits.
Once the delegates were safely inside, where they dined on bratwurst from the hipster restaurant Brooklyn and Bangers and old-school local nosh like Junior’s, Schumer stepped out alongside a phalanx of local elected officials to make the case to the media that the DNC should call New York home in 2016.
“My high school alone, Madison High School, had three senators at one point—a Republican, an independent, and a Democrat,” he said. “We have a Supreme Court justice, several Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winners, and Chris Rock, all from one high school in Brooklyn. So there is something special in the air in Brooklyn, and every one of the delegates will breathe it and go away better for it. Brooklyn has become hip, cool, and young—just like their senator.”
As for those other cities vying to host the Democrats in ’16, well, Schumer seemed to say, who were we kidding?
“Now, people say that Philadelphia is our other major contender,” he said. “Philly is a nice city, but it ain’t Brooklyn.”
The senator pointed to the statue at Coney Island of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson, a moment captured to quell the booing Robinson was facing during a game in Cincinnati—a town that, Schumer noted, is near Columbus, another city vying to host the DNC.
And what about concerns that the hotels of Midtown are too far away from the Barclays Center?
“Gobble-dy-gook. I remember sitting in Los Angeles traffic. I remember those long bus rides in Chicago,” Schumer said, recalling conventions past. “There is going to be nothing like that.”
After Barclays, the delegates were wined and dined throughout the city. There was a dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a meeting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with cultural ambassadors from around the city, and a barbecue at Gracie Mansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s official residence.
For de Blasio, the prospect of bringing home the Democratic convention is a chance not only to get a shot at the hundreds of millions of dollars a convention the size of the DNC could bring but also to highlight the new and improved Brooklyn—where the mayor made his home before moving to the official residence uptown—for would-be tourists of the future. But most important it would prove a validation of de Blasio’s message for the Democratic Party: that it has grown too cozy with the concerns of rich financiers on Wall Street and not focused enough on those who struggle to get by in the outer boroughs. The party the mayor seeks is one in which inequality is the central focus of the platform rather than incidental to it.
“Bringing the convention to Brooklyn will mean the conversation to spotlight and address the issue of income inequality will be highlighted in a place where solutions already have been found,” said Letitia James, the city’s public advocate and second-highest ranking official.
Many progressives like de Blasio fret that the Democratic Party will be ill-served if Hillary Clinton accepts the presidential nomination, as is considered more than likely at this point. But a convention in Brooklyn also could be a chance for Clinton to bask in the progressive shine of the de Blasio administration, all the while rubbing elbows with those who transformed Brooklyn from the provincial home of Ralph Kramden into a brand that has launched the careers of Lena Dunham and Jay-Z.
And no amount of salesmanship on behalf of the borough or tours of its cultural attractions could matter as much as what the presumed Democratic front-runner wants. On this point, Schumer had little doubt.
“Hillary Clinton, it’s been in the newspaper, wants it in Brooklyn,” Schumer said, making an apparent reference to an anonymously sourced New York Times report. “And she walked the streets of Brooklyn with me when she first campaigned, and I think she would be so, so happy if we had the convention in Brooklyn.”
The disadvantage for the borough is its location in a big blue state. Pennsylvania and Ohio can still go Republican, and a convention there could bring enough local media attention to swing the race a couple of points the Democratic way.
Schumer dismissed this bit of strategy.
“You win elections these days by appealing to the voters,” he said. “The best way to appeal to the voters in America? They want a bright future. They want the American dream, symbolized by the lady in our harbor, to burn brightly. There is no place that says the American dream that burns brightly like Brooklyn…That knocks anything that Pennsylvania or Ohio or Arizona can offer.”
After the rally broke up, Schumer made his way to the marching band, whose members had gathered behind the elected officials, for a series of high fives.
Anybody from Madison High School? he asked.
He was disappointed to find out that his alma mater was not represented.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg went there. And so did Chuck Schumer.”