The 2008 DNC placed Denver center stage in national politics

There were many great moments for Denver during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, which four years ago filled this city with hope and lots of spare change. But for many of us, none was as deeply satisfying as finally plopping our collective asses into the plastic seats of what was then Invesco Field at Mile High, where Barack Obama would soon accept the Democratic presidential nomination. And it wasn't just because the first African-American candidate to be nominated by a major party for the office of president would give his acceptance speech on August 28, 2008 — exactly 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King Jr. made his "I Have a Dream" speech. Or because those who were waiting to hear that speech had somehow managed to snag tickets, then survived an insane two-mile, hours-long line in the August heat that wound past a former meth lab before it reached the stadium. No, what made that moment truly great was the realization that, after almost two years of planning, Denver had made it through the gauntlet of security checkpoints, the clogged roadways and the throngs of protesters, and emerged as something new.

As Obama stepped onto the stage, the world finally saw the Mile High City we all hoped we'd see one day.

"It was the most intense experience of my life," John Hickenlooper says of the DNC. Hickenlooper, who was mayor of Denver when the convention came to town and is now the governor of Colorado, has weathered a lot of intense experiences. But in the summer of 2008, almost every day was another challenge — and another opportunity. One of the biggest of both was the eleventh-hour decision by the Obama campaign to move that acceptance speech on the final night of the convention from the Pepsi Center, where it had long been planned, to the football stadium, which would let at least five times as many people catch the historic event. The new setting came with its own irony, as well as more than a few obstacles: When the metropolitan district that built the stadium decided to sell the naming rights, Hickenlooper, then best known as a founding partner/owner of the Wynkoop Brewing Co., Colorado's first brewpub that happened to be conveniently across the street from Westword's last office, campaigned from behind his bar to keep the Mile High Stadium name — or at least part of it. That push led many people to suggest he consider a career in politics — and he did more than consider it. Three years later, he ran a savvy, come-from-behind campaign to become mayor of Denver; in 2010, he moved across the street to an office in the Capitol.

But when Obama decided he wanted to deliver a Mile High speech in August 2008, Hickenlooper's team had just a few weeks to come up with new plans for crowd control, security and weatherproofing (or not) at the new stadium. Then there was the matter of tickets: People who'd given up on catching the speech were suddenly clamoring for seats. At one point, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright contacted the mayor's office, looking for tickets. The convention planners had already worked on putting VIPs in appropriate skyboxes, but Hickenlooper now realized that he not only didn't have tickets for Albright and the rest of the diplomatic corps, he didn't have tickets for state lawmakers or the metro mayors he'd been working with on regional cooperation issues — including cooperating on getting the convention to Denver. And there were simply no more tickets available. Reading the stadium contract, he saw that the Broncos organization was guaranteed a certain number of seats for an event at the football field — so he called Joe Ellis, president of the team, and asked if he had any tickets to spare. Sure, the exec told the mayor, what did he need? Twenty-five? Fifty?

Several thousand, Hickenlooper replied. And Ellis came to the rescue. Soon a mayoral aide was stuffing a valise full of tickets to Obama's nomination speech, and distributing them became almost a full-time job.

That Hickenlooper had become mayor of Denver was almost as unlikely a success story as Denver itself winning the convention. Almost.

"As a city, we'd been looking at it for a while," says Elbra Wedgeworth, the self-proclaimed "east-side girl" who was president of Denver City Council when she decided the time was right for Denver to make a bid, since the city finally had the hotels and facilities the convention would require. "By 2006, I thought maybe we could do it," she remembers. "Everyone thought I was crazy, but I just knew it was the right thing to do. It would put Denver on the world stage politically." And she started finding believers. She went to see Steve Farber, the very connected lawyer who'd been appointed to an earlier convention site-selection committee by Bill Clinton; and then to Richard Scharf, head of the convention and visitors' bureau now known as Visit Denver; and on to Hickenlooper. And in January 2007, they started putting together a team of volunteers and pulling together a bid, which ultimately ran to 1,600 pages and fifteen pounds. More than thirty cities initially expressed an interest in the 2008 Democratic convention; Denver had made it to the final three when the Republicans picked Minneapolis, taking that out of the running. New York was still in the mix, but "Bloomberg basically let Denver push it," Wedgeworth remembers. "We wanted it more than anybody else."

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19 comments
Bob_Smith
Bob_Smith

Nice piece of boosterism. Thanks; it's nice to hear some of those who brought it here and brought it off.

 

A governor's aide stuffing a valise with goodies to give out as political bonbons kinda tarnishes it though, and now I sure would like to hear how  they "somehow came up with enough money".

Betsy Dicks
Betsy Dicks

Jon Stewart called Denver residents as 'frighteningly friendly'

Betsy Dicks
Betsy Dicks

Jon Stewart called Denver residents as 'frighteningly friendly'

Zack Lewis
Zack Lewis

I remember the peace walk, and the free rage against the machine show!!! Epic!

rockiesfever
rockiesfever

WestWard, be sure to cover this convention glamorously!! Its what the cool kids want to see! Dont JUST cover the protests like you did at the RNC Pleeeeeaaaaasssssse!!   In fact Dont cover the protests at the DNC at all! ........or if u do, dont make them look as cool and righteous as the RNC protester.... make them look stupid!

Lastly, dont post any of THE SAME POLICE NOTICES you posted pics of at the RNC!!!!!!  pretend they are not there. And keep pretending like Obama himself is not the guy who signed the bill outlawing on premise protests anywhere that the secret service is!!! If we JUST SHOW IT at RNC like thingys, it will further prove to people that republicans are meanies and are scared of the protesters that obama signed to keep out!!! And you wont lose any respect from free paper picker uppers AND YOU DEFINITELY wont be delivering the news and solely show us what u want us to see!!! Oh and keep pretending thats ANY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT FOX NEWS DOES just in reverse!! Love u guyS!!!!! ........we  expect nothing less

Emily Epstein
Emily Epstein

It taught me that these conventions are best enjoyed from a distance, and they're much more entertaining when they're screwing up traffic in somebody else's city. My sympathies to Tampa.

Emily Epstein
Emily Epstein

It taught me that these conventions are best enjoyed from a distance, and they're much more entertaining when they're screwing up traffic in somebody else's city. My sympathies to Tampa.

Jeff Solt
Jeff Solt

All of "nodo" denver came alive. It was amazing. All kinds of pop up concerts.

Maxwell Morrow
Maxwell Morrow

A complete joke! Rage was good though, other than that, an embarasment....

Nectar Nici
Nectar Nici

seeing Susan Sarandon, Oprah and Sean Penn in town.

George Peele
George Peele

sportin' orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and a Dubya mask:)

Ben Holmes
Ben Holmes

It was at the DNC that the first Bcycle public rental bike installation went into service. The bikes were made available for delagates and they (the bikes) stayed behind when the convention was over. Maybe not the most dazzling part of the show, but one of the most lasting. As a result of that first pilot installation there are now hundreds of Bcycle public rental bikes deployed in Denver and Boulder.

Tylr Tre
Tylr Tre

When I saw spike lee at pf change downtown

 
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