By Jonathan Lemire
Brooklyn, at long last out of the shadow of Manhattan, has become its own urban brand, emanating youthful energy, gritty cool and liberal politics, a combination backers hope will make it the edgy choice to host the 2016 Democratic convention.
Brooklyn's rise as a national symbol of liberalism — embodied by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who calls the borough home — coincides with the revival of the left wing of the Democratic Party. And de Blasio's decision to center his city's bid in Brooklyn — one of six entries submitted nationwide — offers powerful political symbolism and risks for the party's chosen candidate.
If the Democrats spurn a recent trend to have conventions in swing states and opt for deep-blue Brooklyn, the choice allows their eventual nominee to connect with the borough's offbeat image and liberal values. And while that could produce a dynamic televised spectacle and energize the party's base, it could also alienate some undecided voters.
"Brooklyn is really the heart of cool, has tons of cachet and would really fire up some Democrats," said Tobe Berkovitz, media professor at Boston University. "But I'm not sure Brooklyn has much allure if you're a suburban voter from outside Cincinnati."
Brooklyn, home to 2.6 million people, was viewed for generations as merely a support system for its glamorous neighbor across the East River. Manhattan's glitzy offices and culture were made possible by Brooklyn's industrial infrastructure and low-lying brownstone neighborhoods that often housed new immigrants.
But Brooklyn is having a moment. Crime has fallen and rents have risen. As acclaimed restaurants and art galleries have opened, tour buses now frequent the borough's thoroughfares. Brooklyn's cultural touchstones have evolved from Ralph Kramden to Spike Lee, Jay Z and the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.
The city wants to harness that hipness as part of its bid to fire up the party faithful and the media. The convention would be centered at the Nets' new home, the sparkling Barclays Center. De Blasio administration officials say the borough's other trendy venues, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park, could also hold events and parties.
The other boroughs will also play a role, according to the proposal de Blasio's administration will submit to the Democratic National Committee. One idea being floated, literally, is a media party that would start on the Staten Island ferry and continue in a minor league ballpark on the banks of New York Harbor. The administration will also target young voters by launching a crowd-sourcing campaign soon on social media websites to help select an unofficial logo and slogan for Brooklyn 2016.
"We believe it's the perfect home," said Peter Ragone, a senior adviser to the mayor. "We believe New York looks like what America is about to look like."
The most recent convention in New York was in 2004, when Republicans gathered against the backdrop of Sept. 11. The last time the Democrats were in the city was 1992, when Bill Clinton was nominated at Madison Square Garden.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has a home in New York's suburbs and represented the state in the U.S. Senate, is considered an early favorite to capture the 2016 nomination. Some pundits feel Clinton could benefit from the association with Brooklyn.
She was bested by Barack Obama in getting youth and liberal support in 2008; perhaps tellingly, the Clintons have appeared with de Blasio several times during his first months in office, including attending his inauguration. A spokesman for the former secretary of state didn't respond to a request for comment.
Some of Brooklyn's logistics could be challenging, however. Because the borough has only 3,500 hotel rooms (enough to house a tenth of the expected attendees), many convention-goers will likely stay in Manhattan, which could create a strain on the city's mass transit system. But the de Blasio administration believes the city's practice in hosting large events will lead to a seamless experience.
Some Brooklynites who live near the arena aren't so sure.
"Add all the security to the traffic we already have and that's not going to be fun at all," said Cheryl Richards, 43.
But others believe the attention is only good for the ascendant borough.
"It'll be all positive: It'll create jobs, make money and bring attention to Brooklyn," said Dan Cross, 41.
Five other cities — Philadelphia, Phoenix, Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio and Birmingham, Alabama — submitted bids for the convention, and the DNC is expected to make its pick by early next year. Although parties in recent years have opted for swing states (In 2012, Democrats went for Charlotte while Republicans picked Tampa), most pundits don't think convention geography matters much on Election Day.
"There is little to no evidence in political science research that the location of a presidential nominating convention increases or decreases the party's chances of winning the presidency," said Wendy Schiller, political science professor at Brown University.