By Nina Polien Light | Photo by Gery Petrof
Their platform? A pledge to win Cleveland’s bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention and, ultimately, stage a convention that shines an international spotlight on the region’s business, cultural, civic, and natural resources. This, they say, will spur economic development and encourage delegates, media, and out-of-town guests to share their excitement for Cleveland with folks back home who may book a vacation — or, better yet, a convention — here later.
The RNC hits town July 18-21, with an expected 50,000 visitors in tow. The economic impact will be tallied later, but these women — all members of the nonpartisan RNC Host Committee — are confident that cash registers will be ringing and visitors will be singing Cleveland’s praises.
Co-Chair, RNC Host Committee; CEO, KeyCorp
“I call it the best party ever,” Beth Mooney says of the upcoming RNC.
As is the case with all good parties, hosting the four-day extravaganza requires managing logistics. Mooney says networking, raising funds, and working with various stakeholders to make sure civic projects are completed on time are worth the long hours.
“It’s a real source of civic pride because this isn’t about Republicans or Democrats,” she says. “It’s about the City of Cleveland being awarded an opportunity to host a major national convention and all of the attention, attendees, and opportunities that brings with it. It’s a defining moment to see the collaboration of the city, county, and private sector.”
Mooney joined a group of senior executives — including Sherwin-Williams Executive Chairman Christopher Connor, Eaton Corp. Chairman and CEO Alexander “Sandy” Cutler, and Jones Day Partner-in-Charge Chris Kelly — to help secure the bid, raise funds, and assemble a team to execute the RNC.
There have been challenges along the way. Both Cleveland and Philadelphia, which is hosting the Democratic convention, needed to raise more money than any previous host city has had to raise. Mooney and the committee have also been tasked with ensuring the city is ready to welcome 50,000 visitors and keeping the momentum going after the last conventioneer leaves.
“We want it to not only be a good week in Cleveland but also to help showcase Cleveland as a place for future conventions and for people to live, work, and play,” she says.
Mooney will not be on the convention floor but will attend events surrounding the RNC in her role as a civic host. In addition to participating on a panel, she will be present at Sunday evening’s Welcome-to-Cleveland party at North Coast Harbor, various delegation and executive gatherings, and a simulcast viewing party on the night of the nomination.
Mooney, the first female CEO of a Top 20 American bank and American Banker’s Most Powerful Woman in Banking for three consecutive years, serves on several local boards. She encourages women to pursue careers and civic engagement passionately.
“Cleveland is a very egalitarian and welcoming city full of great opportunity for everybody,” she says.
The City of Cleveland has bid on hosting political conventions for three consecutive election cycles, and Valarie J. McCall has led and worked on every effort. After losing a bid to host the 2008 RNC, local officials met with the then-Site Selection Committee to learn how to improve future chances. As a result, the City of Cleveland, business and philanthropic communities, and other partners worked to improve infrastructure and business development, encourage the opening of new hotels, and beautify downtown and the neighborhoods. Destination Cleveland redid its strategic plan to position Cleveland as a top-tier convention city with a thriving tourism industry.
“As Clevelanders, we earn everything we get,” McCall says of securing the latest bid.
McCall’s duties as the city’s point person for the RNC and her membership on the RNC Host Committee mean she is engaged in every aspect of planning. This includes collaborating with the Committee on Arrangements, Secret Service, Internal Permitting Committee, and others.
“I’m 24/7,” she says. “It’s whatever is needed. It’s that important to the City of Cleveland, this region, and the State of Ohio. We’re in a get-it-done-whatever-it-takes mode.”
McCall, previously director of the empowerment zone and the youngest clerk of Cleveland City Council, serves on the board of The Cleveland Leadership Center, Destination Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and other local and national organizations. She urges young women to volunteer in their communities and, once they establish their careers, mentor other women.
“Someone saw something in me and gave me a chance,” she says. “I try to repay that.”
Diane Downing’s involvement with hosting the RNC is personal.
“As someone who came to Cleveland after I graduated from college and worked for Mayors (George) Voinovich and (Michael) White, the Cleveland Browns, and Senator Voinovich, I’ve seen Cleveland during some rough periods,” Downing, who is currently “on loan” from Huntington Bank, says. “This is a really wonderful moment in time, and I’m honored to be part of it. This is a chance to dispel old myths about the city, show off the city as it is now, and set the stage for more development to come.”
Downing’s advance duties revolve around volunteer recruitment, fundraising, the city’s signage and beautification efforts, and working with hotels and other venues. During the convention, she will ensure volunteers are at hotel lobbies, airports, and other locations; work with Host Committee CEO David Gilbert to host sponsors; and coordinate logistical issues with the city and the Committee on Arrangements.
Downing says her stint as project manager for construction of what is now FirstEnergy Stadium prepared her for working on a large-scale event involving a deadline and many stakeholders. It is important for female professionals to be involved in civic and business pursuits, she insists.
“You need to have a viable community that’s working on issues in a constructive way to have a community that’s able to attract new and different businesses,” she says. “The business community can’t walk away from civic issues and expect the region to thrive.”
Two-thirds of RNC visitors will stay outside of the City of Cleveland in the rest of Cuyahoga County and neighboring counties. As the point person for the RNC Host Committee and Committee on Arrangements on county-related matters, Sharon Sobol Jordan is working to make sure the county is prepared for the guests who will not only be in the city but also those who will stay in, visit, and travel through the suburbs to downtown Cleveland. This includes matters related to security, public works, technology, communications, air travel, legal issues, and business development.
“We’ve been focused on the RNC as a platform to tell our story to business leaders and site selectors about the business opportunities in Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland,” Jordan says. “Data shows when people visit Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, we always exceed their expectations and they come back.”
Throughout the convention, Jordan will work closely with County Executive Armond Budish and their team to welcome visitors, troubleshoot issues that may arise, and “make sure county government continues to run well while our guests are here.”
A lifelong Clevelander, Jordan says she is honored to help showcase the region and is gratified by the diversity of the planning team’s gender, age, race, and expertise.
“We’re seeing this more and more in our community,” she says. “It should be encouraging to all of us, including women. I take that as a sign that diverse perspectives are not only respected, but needed, at the table, so when we get to the table, we need to be vocal and share our ideas.”
For more information: 2016cle.com/the-host-committee
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