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Democrats Head to Denver for Presidential Nominating Convention

Among the 50,000 people heading for the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, in late August [25-28] will be delegations from every U.S. state and 15,000 journalists from around the world. VOA's Rosanne Skirble has this preview of what's waiting for them in the Colorado state capital.

When Denver was selected to host the Democratic National Convention more than a year and a half ago, Cameron Moody came to town. A veteran organizer of four Democratic presidential conventions, Moody, says Denver has some distinct advantages over other larger metropolitan cities.

"Denver has one airport, versus three to five which the other cities have had, so we can really do a good job of welcoming people," he said.

He says the convention site is "perfect for transportation and security" because of its central location and parking.

While Denver has hosted bigger crowds in its three downtown sports arenas, the convention promises to be the city's highest security event. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper says his staff has been working with local, state and federal officials to ensure a safe celebration among delegates, visitors, politicians and protesters.

"We've got police officers, not just from Denver, but the whole metropolitan region from as far away as Wyoming that will be here for the convention." Hickenlooper said.

He adds that law enforcement has had extensive training.

"In most cases 40 hours or more of how not to overreact to protesters, how do we make sure that we make this absolutely safe, but at the same time let people have fun," he said.

In early July, construction crews began work to turn the downtown sports and concert venue, known as the Pepsi Center, into the focal point of the convention. Luxury box seats are being transformed into production facitilities for live broadcasts, says Denver National Convention Committee spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth.

The Pepsi Center will use renewable wind and solar electricity and high-efficiency lighting. Hybrid buses, light rail and a fleet of fuel-efficient cars will transport delegates and VIPs around town, or visitors can borrow free bikes supplied by the city.

Mayor John Hickenlooper says these measures will showcase Denver's commitment to reducing energy consumption.

"We've had full-day training seminars with all the hotel operators, all the restaurant operators [on] how to use less water, less energy, how they can recycle more," he said.

Hickenlooper hopes to put on the greenest convention in history.

"We will make the Denver standard something that other cities can use so that they can become greener," he said.

During the day, delegates do state business. They can also join an interfaith gathering or work on service projects in the city. Their afternoon and evening hours are packed with speakers, entertainers and the vote count for the nominees.

With a budget of $40.6 million, the Democratic National Convention and local host committees run the entire show, inside and outside the venues.

Full-time staffers are far outnumbered by volunteers like Nigerian-born Jones Iziomo, who signed-up just days after he became an American citizen in March.

"I am so excited to be here to be a part of this history making process," he says.

Iziomo is among 26,000 volunteers who want to take part.

Volunteer coordinator Christine Berg says while that far exceeds the number needed, she plans to engage as many as possible.

"There are a lot of special events to set up and take down. [There is] registration, hospitality and certainly volunteers are needed for the greening aspect," she said.

Berg says during the convention she will have an "on-call pool" to deploy people where needed. None of the jobs is glamorous, but that doesn't seem to bother volunteers vying for a front row seat.

Encouraged by the overwhelming excitement, Democratic National Convention host committee spokesperson Chris Lopez says he will gauge success by what he calls the "wow" factor.

"On Thursday night when the convention ends, or Friday morning we want to hear from delegates, from media, from everyone that was here, we want to hear, 'Wow, Denver did a heck of a job hosting this convention.'"

Another key to success, Lopez adds, will be its economic impact, which he estimates at $160 million.

Whatever the case on August 28, all eyes are certain to be on Barack Obama when he accepts his party's nomination for president of the United States at the 75,000-seat Invesco Field at Mile High, Denver's football stadium.