RNC Countdown: How Cleveland was picked to host the convention

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CLEVELAND - The roots of the efforts to bring a major political convention to Cleveland can be traced back nearly a decade - and include an ironic twist involving a former high-profile elected official who is now in prison on corruption convictions.

For years, business leaders in the community had bemoaned the lack of a modern convention center, which they said was needed to attract major events to town.

The problem was, there was no agreement on how to pay for a convention center that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the summer of 2007, the Cuyahoga County Commission was willing to look at raising the county sales tax a quarter of a percent to pay for a new convention center that would accompany a new "medical mart" - a place where medical manufacturers would supposedly display their items that hospital systems would buy.

While the medical mart got most of the attention, it was the convention center that would cost the bulk of the nearly $500 million dollars needed to build the complex.

But the move was highly controversial, because commissioners were considering raising the tax without asking voters for their approval on the hike.

Some public officials opposed the idea, including Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed, who asked commissioners at a public meeting to "do the right thing, and put it on the ballot."

Commissioner Peter Lawson-Jones agreed, so he voted against the tax increase.

Commissioner Tim Hagan voted for it.

The third member of the County Commission at that time was Jimmy Dimora - the man who several years later would be sentenced to 28 years in prison on over 30 corruption-related convictions.

Dimora voted for the tax increase, saying a convention center complex would spur economic growth.

He dismissed critics who wanted to put the tax increase to a public vote, saying "you should be embracing and supporting us, not threatening a referendum."

Several years later, as the convention center was dedicated while Dimora was already in prison, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson thanked Commissioner Hagan by name and "the others" who helped to get the center built.

There was only one "others" who voted for the complex - and that was Jimmy Dimora.

By the time GOP leaders came to check Cleveland out in the summer of 2014, the city already had its new, gleaming convention center, and was in the process of building a large "anchor" hotel next door.

Ironically, that new Hilton rises on the site of the old building where the County Commission use to meet. It was torn down to make way for the hotel.

The medical mart's name has changed, and it has not really lived up to the promises made about it being a major economic engine for the region.

But there is little doubt that the Republican National Convention would not be coming to Cleveland this summer without the new convention center, which will serve as home base for many of the 15,000 media members who are expected to cover the convention.

And the convention center would not have been built without the 2-1 vote of the old County Commission that included the vote of Jimmy Dimora.

Read more on the RNC here.

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