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The image of former mayor Ed Koch adorned signs asking New Yorkers to be kind to the GOP.
The image of former mayor Ed Koch adorned signs asking New Yorkers to be kind to the GOP. (Globe Photo / Joe Tabacca)

Republican convention puts many in NYC on edge

NEW YORK -- The last time Manhattan hosted a political convention -- the Democrats in 1992 -- Republicans in Washington cast the nation's largest city as a symbol of all that was wrong with urban America. They blamed liberal Democrats who ran the city for its high taxes, rent control, condom distribution in schools, and balky bureaucracy.

Dan Quayle, then vice president, said Democrats had picked "the perfect site for their convention, almost as if they feel a strange compulsion to return to the scene of the crime." Newt Gingrich, who was House minority whip, suggested New York City was just like the Democratic Party in being "so out of whack with the rest of the country."

Two Republican mayors and a Republican governor later, the Grand Old Party is holding its nominating convention for the first time in the city its leaders used to so publicly despise. When Republicans arrive this month to nominate George W. Bush, they may find the feeling is somewhat mutual in New York, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 1, thousands of protesters are readying to demonstrate against them, and Bush-bashing is popular. The fact that Bush's arrival could bring gridlock, security checks, and the threat of a terror attack has annoyed New Yorkers to the point where some plan to flee town between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2.

"Most people just can't understand why the Republicans are coming to New York," said Kim Jade Fry, a musician and singer who will leave for upstate New York during the convention. "All the controversy around the president I believe just brings the chance for another attack. I just think it's going to be crazy here with all the protest, and I'm getting concerned about terrorism."

Nicole Nelch, a waitress in a Greenwich Village restaurant, who recently wore a T-shirt that declared, "George Bush ain't got no soul," would rather pretend Bush wasn't being nominated for a second term in the city where just over 363,000 New Yorkers voted for him in 2000 compared with 1.6 million for Al Gore.

"I'm not thinking about Bush coming to New York City. It's just evil," said Nelch.

In the run-up to the convention, Republican organizers and New Yorkers are performing a delicate ballet, tiptoeing around one another. Several recent surveys, for instance, suggest most residents do not support Bush, but they do think the convention will be a financial asset to the city. Republican officials estimate the convention will bring $250 million to the local economy.

"New York City is a very democratic and liberal town, and I don't think any president has been more unpopular in New York than this president," said Neil Kleiman , director of the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank based in the city. "Given that, I don't think New Yorkers have any issues with Republicans coming to town. It's a great opportunity to show off our city and to show that we are thriving economically and culturally."   Continued...

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