Donors stepping up for Democratic convention bid

by Chris Hepp, Inquirer Staff Writer
It took less than an hour, and Murat Guzel was persuaded to break out his checkbook
With his signature, the Bethlehem, Pa., purveyor of organic foods put up $100,000 to try to bring the Democratic National Convention to Philadelphia in 2016.
"We need to remember our founding fathers and our nation's founding principles, and Philadelphia is the best place for that," said Guzel, a frequent donor to Democratic campaigns. "Those principles need to be remembered. I think this is the best time in many years to send the message about those values across the United States and the international community."
That was not quite one of the selling points being pitched by a quartet of Democratic heavyweights - Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, Mayor Nutter, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania - but that didn't matter. They got the money.
Guzel shelled out his hard-earned cash after a closed-door meeting in the ornate Conversation Hall, just around the corner from the mayor's office in City Hall.
He was among about 25 leading Democratic donors called together in an effort to raise about $5 million in pledges to prove to the Democratic National Committee that the city has the wherewithal to raise the upward of $100 million needed to put on the convention.
Others invited included Daniel Hilferty, chief executive of Independence Blue Cross; John Fry, president of Drexel University; Harold Honickman, chairman of the Honickman Group; Thomas A. Leonard, chairman of the law firm Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel L.L.P.; and Christina Lurie, a part-owner of the Eagles.
According to one invitee, the group heard from Rendell, Nutter, and Casey, in that order, before Wolf stepped up as the closer.
"We were told that we are the front-runner and that it's ours to lose," said one potential donor. "And we have demonstrated that we are willing to make the financial commitment that this is going to take.
Party insiders said they expect the city to be named one of three finalists for the convention this week. The other two finalists are expected to be New York City and Columbus, Ohio.
"We had a great meeting," Rendell said after Monday's gathering. "There were a lot of people in the room, and a lot of people made significant commitments."
Said Wolf: "This meeting was really about mechanics, about putting together the financial support we need to make this final part of the package really work."
The mayor reminded those in attendance that with Pope Francis having confirmed that he will visit next year, Philadelphia stands on the cusp of hosting two international events back-to-back.
Leonard, for one, liked that message. "I think it was well-received," the lawyer said when asked about the message to potential donors like himself. "Everyone thought the combination of the pope in 2015 and the presidential nominee in 2016 would be great for the city, and we ought to dig deep and make it a reality."
Not present, but there in spirit, was U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, who has been a driving force behind efforts to bring the convention here. Brady, who is the longtime city Democratic chairman as well as a congressman, was in Washington helping to orient newly elected Democratic representatives.
"I think we are very close," Brady said in an interview. "I've had conversations, and will have more conversations with [DNC chair] Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She is my friend for many years. I'm politicking my little butt off to get this done."