|By Tatsha Robertson, The Boston Globe|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 4, 2004 - NEW YORK -- The city and host committee wanted nothing more than to show they could put on a national political convention better than Boston, and by many measures they did.
The city that never sleeps stayed open for business, its police kept thousands of activists under control without shutting down public transportation, and businesses reaped an economic bonus estimated at as much as $255 million. They did it, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg boasted yesterday, while the city juggled several other major events.
"No other city could host, all at one time, not only a political convention, but also the US Tennis Open, the most highly attended sporting event in the world; home series for two major league baseball teams, hundreds of thousands of political activists exercising their First Amendment rights, and have local residents go about their lives with as little disruption as possible," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg and other officials fought hard to get the convention, so they could show that New York City's economy has rebounded three years after terrorist attacks.
Still smarting over Boston getting the Democratic National Convention, New York officials smirked at Boston's closing 40 miles of roads during the convention in July and vowed the Big Apple knew how to put on a major show without turning out the lights.
In the end, officials closed only the streets closest to Madison Square Garden, the convention site, and kept the adjoining Penn Station open. They did it with thousands of protesters demonstrating in a wide area of the city.
"We've entered into an era where the list of cities that can hold an event of this size has changed dramatically. What were once 30 or 40 cities is now just a handful," said Kevin Sheekey, president of the New York City Host Committee 2004.
Preliminary data from the city indicate the convention generated $341 million in economic activity and losses of $86 million, for a net gain of $255 million.
The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University estimated a smaller boost for New York City of $163 million, but Paul Bachman, an economist with the institute, suggested the much higher figure sounded reasonable.
"You really have to put it in some context. That really is not much of a boost in my eyes," Bachman said.
Boston saw a $154 million gain from the Democratic convention, according to preliminary estimates from officials at the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Mayor Thomas Menino's office.
Both predict the final data will show a much larger gain.
Bloomberg had sold the Republican convention to his constituents, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, by emphasizing the economic gain it would bring to the city and by promising few disruptions.
Whereas Menino urged Bostonians to stay home, Bloomberg begged people to come to New York, even offering small financial incentives to protesters.
Seth Gitell, spokesman for Menino, said the shutdown in Boston during the convention had more to do with the Secret Service's demands than anything else. He pointed to nearly 2,000 arrests in New York this week compared with four in Boston during the Democratic convention.
"He [Bloomberg] is more than able to do comparisons all he wants, but any comparison has to include the difference in arrests and the feelings toward law enforcement on behalf of the protesters," Gitell said. "The protesters left [Boston] saying they could not get anything going, because they couldn't generate any confrontation from Boston police. I don't know what they are saying in New York."
Cristyne Nicholas, president of NYC & Company, formerly known as the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city knew showcasing 12,000 police officers on duty for the convention was a way of marketing the city to the Republicans who would go back to their respective towns singing the city's praises.
For instance, Chad Rockett, a visiting Republican from Little Rock, Ark., said New York was not the scary city he thought it would be, and he praised the police for being friendly and protective.
But scenes of police on horseback galloping down Seventh Avenue, zooming up and down streets in Italian scooters, or marching down alleys in riot gear left many protesters nervous or frustrated. About 1,800 demonstrators were arrested, and many complained they were jailed for no reason.
A Manhattan judge forced the city to release more than 500 detainees who had been held for 36 hours.
On the last night of the convention, Vincent Valdmans of New Hampshire stood at a protest just south of Madison Square Garden, where police in riot gear were facing hundreds of shouting protesters.
"I feel Bloomberg has pulled off what he wanted to pull off, and that's the establishment can come here and feel secure," said Valdmans, 23. "But my concern is what will be the impression of visitors who came here not for the convention, but to protest the convention.
"I think New York's reputation as a tolerant place for debate and political experience has been disappointing for them."
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