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Day in the Life of: a DNC diversity-working-group member, Zach Wilcha
by Paige Cooperstein/Philadelphia Gay News
2016-07-22

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Zach Wilcha already had a coffee meeting ( although he drank water; he doesn't like coffee ) and a 20-minute phone call with an LGBT business owner by the time he biked to his glass-walled office at the Industrious Workspace on Broad Street on a recent Thursday morning.

Independence Business Alliance, the region's LGBT chamber of commerce, moved to the trendy space in March. There's a popcorn machine in the lobby on the 17th floor and succulents on the tables.

"These are my Melanie Griffith 'Working Girl' shoes that I wear on the commute," Wilcha said as he pulled off his sneakers and stowed them under his desk. He pulled on some wingtips while he opened his email.

He's been intimately involved in planning for the Democratic National Convention, so LGBT business owners could take advantage of the 50,000 people expected to flock to Philadelphia July 25-28.

"Philadelphia's having a real moment," Wilcha said. "It's been fantastic, from the pope to the DNC. We really are on the world stage right now. As people come to recognize us as a world-class city, it's important that LGBT people, and especially the LGBT business community, have a voice in Philadelphia's growth.

"People didn't necessarily frequent the businesses [when the pope came in September]," he added. "The DNC has been excited to share Philadelphia's commerce with the world."

Wilcha has served as a member of the Diversity Working Group with the local host committee since October, when he became the IBA's first executive director. The group is nearing the end of its work to help the DNC with its commitment to spend 35 percent of its budget with diverse businesses.

Two LGBT-owned businesses have received contracts for work associated with the convention, one from Atlanta and one from Orlando.

"If all conventions that came to town used that model," he said, "it'd be a lot more business for LGBT processionals and it'd be a real feather in Philadelphia's cap to make that happen."

In the immediate future, Wilcha wanted to follow up with the DNC to find out if local LGBT businesspeople could be connected with attendees of the LGBT caucuses, which are open to the public during the convention.

Jess Gregan, who started with the IBA in May, said she's heard Wilcha described as a duck and she agrees.

"His legs are always paddling beneath the surface, but on the surface everything runs smoothly," she said. "Prior to me, Zach was doing everything. It's been a transition to delegate some of the work. But we complement each other."

As the chamber's administrative assistant, Gregan attended an event organized by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority while Wilcha continued planning for the packed week of the convention.

Member businesses should use demlist.com to connect with resources, Wilcha said, adding they could bring people into their establishments by using #DNCDeals on social media. Creative deals will be featured on phldnc.com .

In addition to serving as an institution where LGBT business owners can turn for DNC information, the IBA is also hosting its first mixer in Bucks County July 26 and connecting people for the counter-protest of the Westboro Baptist Church at the Mazzoni Center earlier that day.

Rich Horrow, IBA's board president, said Wilcha's ability to develop new partnerships is pivotal to the chamber.

"He really increased our bandwidth," Horrow said. "He's grown our relationships in the community. He's everywhere. It's really about those relationships."

He has a dry sense of humor that always lightens the mood, Horrow added.

Wilcha is a veteran runner with three marathons, 17 half-marathons and seven Broad Street Runs under his belt. He also loves to read fiction, recently finishing "Beijing Comrades," about a relationship between two men in the 1990s. It was banned in China and recently translated into English.

As the IBA heads into its 10th year, Wilcha has two big projects on the brain: increasing the racial diversity of the chamber's members and starting an economic-empowerment initiative for the transgender community, which would educate businesses on hiring more transgender employees and connect transgender entrepreneurs. The work requires meeting with a lot of stakeholders, including LGBT people who may not yet be chamber members.

"Being able to be the person who's able to take the time to listen to what others say has been instrumental in helping us grow," Wilcha said.

Two Gayborhood locations in PoliticalFest

The Gayborhood in Philadelphia boasts two of the seven locations the public can visit as part of PoliticalFest, which opens today and runs through July 27.

The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust St., has an exhibit on presidential archives featuring a life mask of George Washington, a death mask of Abraham Lincoln and memorabilia from 19th-century African-American political conventions, among other things.

The Historical Society of Philadelphia, 1300 Locust St., will display founding documents including a constitution of the Women's Suffrage Association with a note by Susan B. Anthony and a lithograph of the Emancipation Proclamation, among other artifacts.

"It's a great way to get some residents out and about and to get attendees to parts of the city they might not otherwise explore," said Angela Val, deputy executive director of Philadelphia 2016, the host committee for the Democratic National Convention. The convention is not open to the public.

Tickets for PoliticalFest, which anyone can attend, cost $15 and offer access all six days.

As mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell created the event for the Republican National Convention when it came to the city in 2000. All activities took place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Organizers wanted to branch out to more locations to show off the museum-quality institutions that have sprung up in Philadelphia in the last 16 years.

LeapStarr Productions, a women-owned company from Moorestown, N.J., earned the contract to produce PoliticalFest.

"Having the opportunity to be a part of such a historic political event in our hometown is certainly a privilege beyond our wildest expectations," Elizabeth Jenkins-Santana, LeapStarr's CEO, said in a statement. "We look forward to representing Philadelphia on a national platform."

The hub of PoliticalFest will be at the National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St. At the main stage, attendees can watch two political-themed game shows and an interview series called, "Executive Powers: Celebrity Q&A," during which actors who have portrayed the president or other political heavyweights will be interviewed. Highlights include Tony Goldwyn from "Scandal" and Melissa Fitzgerald from "The West Wing."

The other locations include Hall F of the Convention Center, 1101 Arch St.; the National Liberty Museum, 312 Chestnut St.; the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, 15 S. Seventh St.; and the Heritage Center at the Union League, 140 S. Broad St.

Philadelphia expects to see 50,000 people come to town for the convention. That's less than the 70,000 people who flood the city during an Eagles home game. Val said she hoped Philadelphians would stay in town for the convention to take advantage of PoliticalFest and other public activities.

"We wanted to make sure all the residents are acting as hosts," she said, "We wanted to make sure people felt involved even if not on the convention floor."


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