Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Democratic National Convention

BlogHer Original Post

In 2005, I worked at the Democratic National Committee for then-Chairman, Governor Howard Dean. I started in July of that year, and one of my first assignments was to get a group of party insiders together to start planning the 2008 convention. I got to send out RFPs, converse with mayors, work on travel and logistics until I left the party in 2007.

In 2008, I had the pleasure of watching what started as a group of 10 people in Governor Dean’s office turn into this massive event watched by people all over the world. I remembered the day we received Denver’s proposal, and then I got to see it all come alive. And for those of you who have ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a national party convention -- I got to sit down the the Reverend Leah Daughtry, the CEO of the 2008 convention.

Leah Daughtry

BlogHer: The big question on everyone’s mind: How long does it take to plan the convention from start to finish?

Reverend Leah Daughtry: Generally, you start with with the site selection process, after a new Democratic Party chairman has been elected. And that takes about a year, just to do the request for proposal (RFP) that goes out to the major cities in the country. From the writing of the RFP until the selection of the city and the writing of the contract generally takes a year to 18 months. Once the city is selected, you then move to actual convention planning -- and that takes two years or more.

BH: That must require a lot of manpower. How big is the team that you use from the beginning to the big show?

RLD: You start with a small team -- maybe 10 people -- in the beginning. By the time you move to the city -- the staff is on the ground for about a year -- you have 10 to 20. By the time you move to convention week, there is a staff of 300, plus volunteers.

BH: How long does it take to get the convention center ready?


RLD: There’s a whole construction selection team RFP process, to choose the firm that is going to do the construction of the actual set. Then you select a producer, who helps you with the look of the set and helps with the design, and what it is going to physically look like; the construction team does all of the wiring behind that. There are then two periods -- limited access, where you can come and go on a schedule; you usually have limited access for about four months or so. You then have unlimited access, where you have one hundred percent control of the arena -- they actually give you the keys. You have that for about 45 days to 60 days, depending on the arena.

BH: Do you have to close up immediately after the convention is over?

RLD: We immediately close up. If you ever go into the hall the day after the convention, it’s like a ghost town because the breakdown happens that night. As soon as the gavel goes down, the breakdown starts.

BH: You mentioned that the production that goes into the convention. What all goes into deciding the look of the convention?

RLD: In 2008, we selected a producer, which was the producer we have had since 1992. We then selected a set designer, which involved my going to California, and they bring you mockups for ideas of what they think the set should look like. I finally chose Bruce Rodgers, because he gave me something totally different. [Rodgers] is used to doing rock shows ... he does Springsteen sets. So he gave us a completely brand-new look from what we had been experiencing for the last few conventions. Once you have a producer and a set designer on hand, you then start meetings.

In 2008, we didn’t know who the candidate was going to be, so we met with Governor [Howard] Dean (D-VT), myself, the producer and other creative people that we liked. We started looking at drawings. We wanted something that would give us a lot of flexibility: highly visual, visually engaging, modern, cutting-edge-looking. You tell that to the set designer, and he comes back with three or four drawings, and you pick one.


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