Sunday, November 26, 2006

DENVER — The Mile High City is enjoying a surge of momentum in its bid for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, thanks to Colorado’s electoral tilt to the left and a well-timed burst of union activity.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is expected to announce the convention site in early December, and some Denver residents already are predicting their city will trump New York as the party’s pick.

“I think we’re a shoo-in,” said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank. “The Democratic Party should be rewarding the success of Democrats here because of this year’s incredible election sweep.”

In a state where Democratic registration ranks third behind that of Republican and unaffiliated, the Democrats reclaimed the governor’s office after an eight-year Republican run, bolstered their majorities in the state legislature and captured a previously Republican House seat.

“We believed all along that if we elected a Democratic governor, our chances would be stronger,” said Denver City Council member Rosemary Rodriguez, who also sits on the Denver 2008 Host Committee.

Mrs. Rodriguez noted that Denver, which last hosted a national party convention in 1908, made unsuccessful bids to host the 2000 and 2004 Democratic conventions. “We’re always a bridesmaid,” she said, “but I think it’s finally our time.”

Those previous campaigns were pretty much doomed from the start as a result of one glaring flaw: Denver had no unionized hotels. The city’s private sector has long been cool to union activity, and organized labor holds a virtual veto over the Democratic Party’s convention sites.

“Denver hasn’t needed it [labor organizing]. The hotel industry in general takes pretty good care of its employees,” said Ilene Kamsler, president of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association and a convention committee member.

At the same time, she said, “it’s advantageous to have a union hotel because I don’t think we would get the convention without it.”

In April, the Denver Area Labor Federation voted to oppose the city’s convention bid, citing the lack of a unionized hotel. But in late September, employees at the year-old Hyatt Denver Convention Center Hotel announced they had unionized.

Credit Mrs. Rodriguez for encouraging labor to take another stab at organizing in Denver. She met with AFL-CIO representatives earlier this year to extol the benefits of a unionized hotel in downtown Denver.

“At the meetings, I said, ‘This would be good for all of us. The Democrats won’t write us off immediately. It’s good for the West, and it fits in with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy,’ ” Mrs. Rodriguez said.

Making the process more difficult was the hotel’s neutrality agreement. Built with funding from a 1999 bond election, the Hyatt is run by the city hotel authority and management is forbidden from interfering in union organizing.

As a result, the mayor and City Council were unable to assist or endorse labor efforts to unionize the hotel, Mrs. Rodriguez said. “They [union organizers] were disgruntled about that, I’ll be honest,” she said.

Unite Here, a hotel-workers union, ultimately gained a majority of signatures in a “card-check election,” in which workers only have to sign a card to approve union representation. The process allowed organizers to move much more quickly than they would have under a secret-ballot election.

“It was serendipitous timing, certainly,” said Debbie Willhite, executive director of the convention committee.

Unless, of course, you’re a Republican. “The downside is that the Democrats will have their big party, leave after a week,” Mr. Caldara said, “and we’ll be stuck with a union hotel.”

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