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Birmingham secretly approved $275k for lobbyists to woo DNC, but insiders say city is out of the running

Birmingham City Hall
Birmingham City Hall

The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday morning used a loophole in Alabama’s open meetings law to go into a “closed door executive session” and approve spending $275,000 on Democrat lobbyists to help the city land the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Perhaps most notably, the Council approved spending $150,000 of taxpayer resources on The Podesta Group, which is led by Tony Podesta, a Democratic strategist with close ties to the Obama administration. His brother, John, serves as Counselor to President Obama in the White House, where his duties include “overseeing climate change and energy policy.”

There was strong pushback from the Birmingham media when documents were leaked showing the Council’s plan, not so much because of the size of the expenditure, but because city leaders were trying to do it behind a veil of secrecy. Officials said their reason was that a public debate about hiring the lobbyists could be damaging to the city’s bid to land the DNC.

Kwani Dickerson Carson, an aide to Birmingham Mayor William Bell, took to Facebook to respond to the criticism the mayor and city council were receiving.

“I tell you… some people are SO Anti-Birmingham and claim to be ‘journalists’ that they would intentionally attempt to derail any strategic opportunities we have to market OUR city… the same CITY they work in, write about and HATE,” she wrote. “There are so many FABULOUS things Mayor Bell and TEAM BELL are doing to write about…these pathetic excuses for ‘stories’ are kinda like cutting off your nose to spite your face… New levels, same devils.”

But the flood of attention the Council’s process received caused another detail to be mostly overlooked: at the time the Birmingham City Council was approving the lobbying expenditure, Democratic Party insiders were already saying the city was essentially out of the running.

According to a New York Daily News report, the DNC has narrowed down its choices to New York City, Philadelphia, and Columbus, Ohio.

The other two cities who submitted bids, Birmingham and Phoenix, had drawbacks that made their bids long shots to begin with, Democrats said. Although they were not specific, Birmingham’s limited number of hotels, subpar convention facilities and poor public transit system have been points of concern.

A Party official was also critical of New York’s bid, even though Bill and Hillary Clinton have thrown their support behind it.

“It doesn’t get you anything,” said the New York Posts’s Democratic Party source. “Why not have it in a swing state — especially if Hillary is the nominee?”

Both Philadelphia and Columbus are in swing states, but Philadelphia is currently believed to be the frontrunner because Republicans are already planning to host their convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

In a Yellowhammer poll that received just under 3,500 responses, 90 percent said they thought the $275,000 expenditure was a “waste of money,” and 86 percent said they did not believe Birmingham has a legitimate chance of landing the convention.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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