Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Obama will speak indoors at DNC tonight -- unlike at Mile High four years ago

When accepting the presidential nomination at the 2012 DNC in Charlotte tonight, Barack Obama will speak at the Time Warner Convention Center, a quick switch from the Bank of America stadium. The official reason for the move is weather, although conspiracy theorists have their own ideas, including too many empty seats. That wasn't a problem four years ago, when the site for Obama's speech was switched from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field at Mile High.

The campaign to save the Mile High name -- or at least part of it -- helped propel then-barkeep John Hickenlooper into politics. But five years after he won his dark-horse race for mayor of Denver, Hickenlooper didn't have time to contemplate the ironies of the Obama team wanting to move the location for Obama's nomination acceptance speech -- with only a few weeks until the 2008 Democratic National Convention was set to get under way in the city.

Hickenlooper and his team had already worked on the safety issues for the Pepsi Center, where the DNC was centered. And the logistics of switching so quickly to Mile High were intense, Hickenlooper remembers. Coping with security wasn't the only problem. There was the uncertainty of weather in late August; like Charlotte's stadium, Denver's is open to the elements.

And while Mile High had five times as many seats as the Pepsi Center, even 80,000 would not be enough to meet the demand from all the people who wanted to see the first African-American presidential candidate from a major party accept the nomination -- on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

A week before the convention, after a call from former Denverite Madeline Albright, Hickenlooper realized he didn't have tickets for the diplomatic corps, local legislators and all the regional mayors who had helped out with the DNC -- much less all the other people pressing for tickets to this historic event.

So Hickenlooper read the city's contract with the Broncos and realized the team had a certain number of seats to any event booked into the facility. Hickenlooper called Joe Ellis, president of the team. "I need tickets," the mayor told him. How many? the exec responded. Twenty-five, fifty?

"A couple thousand," Hickenlooper admitted.

The Broncos came through, and soon the mayor had "a valise full of tickets" that his team was able to dole out to all the people who made the 2008 Democratic National Convention possible.

The events in Charlotte seem to lack the excitement of four years ago...but maybe that's just the view from those still a mile high over Denver's convention. The night when Obama gave his speech -- under clear skies, before a packed stadium -- remain a constant, even though many other things have changed. Today, Invesco Field is known as Sports Authority Field at Mile High -- and John Hickenlooper is the governor of Colorado, who addressed the Democratic National Convention last night.

Patricia Calhoun recently interviewed many of the people involved in the 2008 convention in Denver. Read their mile-high memories in "The 2008 DNC placed Denver center stage in national politics."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun