To the uninformed visitor, it has become difficult to tell whether Denver is preparing for a Democratic National Convention or the institution of martial law. Helicopters filled with armed commandos swooped over downtown in a training exercise earlier this summer. A warehouse was converted into a temporary jail with chain-link fences and signs threatening the use of electric stun devices. Travel agents sold getaway packages to locals, with one company imploring residents to “escape town while you still can.”
Hosting a convention necessitates preparing for the worst, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said, and his city has accomplished that with gusto. The possibility of protesters hurling buckets of feces? Denver proposed an ordinance to prevent it. The threat of crowd violence? The city spent $2.1 million on “personal protection equipment” for police.
More than 50,000 visitors will descend on the Mile High City this week, and Denver has spent the past year plotting ways to avoid public embarrassment. The city studied previous convention disturbances and negotiated with several groups that are planning to protest. With an international audience of media members, delegates and the Democratic Party elite expected to arrive this weekend, Denver hopes to capitalize on a chance to re-image itself as “more than a second-tier town,” Hickenlooper said.
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“The nice thing about hosting one of these conventions is that you can show off,” said Hickenlooper, a Democrat who will speak on the opening night of the convention. “We don’t want some traffic jam, protest or unfortunate incident to become the big story, because there’s too much good stuff going on here. We have the infrastructure to be prepared to handle anything.”
Denver worked hard to procure such a visible moment. The city submitted convention bids in 2000 and 2004 but didn’t advance deep into the selection process, in part because it lacked enough hotel rooms. After another four years of growth — Colorado is one of the 10 fastest-growing states in the nation — Denver submitted a bid for the 2008 convention.