New Yawk City. Many out-of-towners consider this metropolis a close third after Sodom and Gomorrah — a city, despite it's string of recent Republican mayors, known for its liberal lean and decidedly Democratic slant. So it may seem a little odd that this town, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one, is the site of the biggest event of the election cycle for the more conservative of the two major parties. Needless to say, it may take some attitude adjustment for the locals to get to like the idea.
Signs anticipating the convention have been in place around the city for months. Some depict the city's former mayor, Democrat Ed Koch, chilling with a live elephant and carry the slogan, "You don't have to be a Republican to love New York," while others are more straightforward: "The Republicans are coming. Make nice."
Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also tried to put out the welcome mat, but with more than 250,000 protesters expected to hit the streets come Sunday, the 4,855 Republican delegates might not feel the love. Surprisingly, it may be the protesters who will be getting the city's warm-and-fuzzies. In an effort to ward off potentially violent and destructive demonstrations from anti-Republican protesters, the mayor announced a partnership with the city's businesses to give would-be demonstrators perks for protesting peacefully.
Protesters who wear a button emblazoned with a cartoon Statue of Liberty and the phrase "Peaceful Political Activists Welcome" are eligible for discounts and more at participating businesses. That's right, if you say it and don't spray-paint it, you can look forward to chowing down at Applebee's and get your onion rings on the house. Super Runners Shop will offer a free "Exercise Your Right to Vote" T-shirt with any purchase over $50. And, perhaps best of all, the Museum of Sex is offering $5 off its admission price.
OK, even Mayor Bloomberg admits that the strategy isn't foolproof. "We can't stop an anarchist from getting a button," he said at the press conference where he announced the plan. "But they still would get the discounts as long as they have the button."
And even with it, anyone looking suspicious will come under the watchful eyes of the expected 10,000 police officers set to be deployed throughout the city. And despite the large number of protestors, the law will be more concerned with terrorism. The NYPD has been hard at work, getting schooled in the various types of attacks possible, including biological and chemical. They are also getting a crash course in the legal issues surrounding the First Amendment rights of demonstrators, so that they can differentiate between constitutionally sanctioned and criminal behavior.
The men and women in blue have their rides tricked out for the convention; they will be looking fly in the 300 new motor scooters and 15 vans the department splurged on to help keep the peace. They also get new detection devices, such as the sally port, a gizmo designed to look underneath vehicles before they enter the area around Madison Square Garden, where the convention is to be held. They won't be doing much automobile inspection, though, considering that most of the streets around the Garden will be closed to traffic during convention hours, and only pedestrians with a special pass will be allowed to pound the pavement in the area. Planes, too, are forbidden to fly in a seven-mile radius above the convention.
The barricading has ticked quite a few people off, who estimate that in spite of the convention planners' projection of $250 million in revenue for the city, more than 2,000 shops will have to close, not to mention the loss of cash from the thousands of native New Yorkers who, because of safety concerns, have decided to scram.
Convention officials maintain that the blocked-off streets and angry protesters won't prevent the delegates from frolicking — and spending cheddar — in the city. Accordingly, they have bought thousands of umbrellas for the attendees (who are forbidden to bring potentially hazardous objects into the convention) and equipped them with free subway passes, as well as discounts to attractions around the Apple (note: these are at different businesses than the ones offered to button-bearing protesters). Speaking of cheddar, conventiongoers will receive gift bags with elephant- and star-shaped Kraft mac and cheese, as well as other all-American goodies.
However, the hot item to have is not a steaming bowl of "the Cheesiest," but a Pataki Pass: An exclusive invite from New York Governor George Pataki and his wife, Libby, which gets you into more chi-chi parties than if you were Justin Timberlake. Pataki Pass-holders can hit a different party each convention night, starting with the "stylish and swanky fun-filled evening" at the trendy restaurant Cipriani, or salsa and tango at the world-famous Copacabana.
However, they may not feel the need for any secondary entertainment; the convention might be a spectacle in itself. Russ Schriefer, the convention's program director, is aware that many a past event has bored the public to tears. Mr. Schriefer has told reporters that this year the GOPers have taken a lesson from a more popular pastime than politics: The boob tube. "We tried to look at what TV shows do to keep an audience," he told The New York Times. "We're taking lessons from TV shows." Accordingly, expect musical breaks to serve as what Mr. Schriefer calls "a palate cleanser separating segments."
Those "palate cleansers" will take the form of celebrity entertainers, such as country-music superstars Brooks and Dunn and chanteuse Lee Ann Womack, as well as others who will perform from the specially installed circular stage, which can be raised and lowered hydraulically.
With 15,000 members of the media on hand to cover the convention from start to finish, Americans across the nation can keep an eye on the proceedings 24/7. The Big Apple has been buffed and shined, fortified and barricaded. After the shenanigans die down, the city that never sleeps may need a nice long nap.