Los Angeles Times

Bracing for the GOP

Get ready! Security for the GOP bash will virtually seal swaths of midtown, slowing trains and buses and packing streets and highways with thousands of Republicans -- and the media covering them -- running about town from dawn to way past dusk and thousands more protesters whopping and disrupting traffic.


You've lived through it all, New York.

Stalled streets and jammed highways? Been there, done that.

February 2002 World Economic Forum? Fuhgedaboudit.

August 2003 blackout? Big deal.

Daily bomb scares? You've endured tardy trains for years.

A town full of rowdy Republicans and loud protesters? Meet my noisy neighbors, you say.

Tough as bedrock, New Yorkers sniffed at it all long before the age of terrorism.

Now enter next week's Republican National Convention.

It's already sent many packing, and for good reason.

Security for the GOP bash will virtually seal swaths of midtown, slowing trains and buses and packing streets and highways with thousands of Republicans -- and the media covering them -- running about town from dawn to way past dusk and thousands more protesters whopping and disrupting traffic.

So, like Alan Fouks, of Hillcrest, you may be one of the dubious questioning Mayor Michael Bloomberg's optimism. "If you don't live or work in the Garment District, you won't even know that there's a convention in town," the mayor was quoted as saying.

"Forget about it," said Fouks, 24, who works for the city's Human Resources Administration and who will be vacationing in Costa Rica come convention time.

"Something else" is bound to happen, he said. "Whatever it is, I don't want to know about it."

Expecting boisterous protests

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, acknowledged that this convention is expected to draw a hardier group of protesters than Boston did.

In Beantown, the local residents who didn't skip town entirely steered clear of the FleetCenter, where the Democrats convened.

That's an option endorsed by the city's tourism chief and echoed by a midtown palm reader.

"It's going to be haywire -- traffic and mess. I don't have to read Bloomberg's palm to tell you that," said the palm reader, who identified herself as Ann, 22, and works out of a storefront near West 35th Street and Ninth Avenue. "I'm not going to be here," she promised.

Cristyne Nicholas, president of NYC & Co., the city's tourism bureau, acknowledges that Aug. 30 to Sept. 3 will be a great time to explore the city's faraway treasures, from the beaches of Far Rockaway to the seafood restaurants at City Island.

For those who are staying -- whether by choice or circumstance -- some have formulated some, uh, conventional wisdom.

Stay away from Times Square. Because it is an area near where many delegates will room and because of its proximity to Madison Square Garden, it will be more of a zoo than usual.

Getting there will take longer

Also allow extra time to get where you're going.

"Right now it takes 10 minutes just to get up the stairs," said Nita Flores, 32, of South Ozone Park and a customer service representative for an insurance company who uses a station near the Garden. "When you add protests, God only knows.

"The president is going to be there, Secret Service. I don't have time for that," she said, adding that she'll travel to and from work by bus. "I have to get to work."

The worst may be for those who live and work within a few miles of the Garden -- metal detectors at every turn; demonstrators shouting outside their windows, identity checks.

"Stay away from Madison Square Garden. Avoid big crowds. Wherever you're going, go straight there, then turn around and go straight back the other way," was the advice from Derick Ogletree, 29, of the Bronx, a customer service representative for an advertising firm near the Garden.

Beyond midtown, not all is grim, although the reality is that demonstrators and event organizers have staked out spots as far away as the East Meadow in Central Park, the West Side Highway, Wall Street and Ellis Island.

The worst for drivers will be unannounced street closures, said Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for the Automobile Association of New York.

"These random closures could take place at anyplace at anytime," he said, adding that drivers should steer clear of area airports, highways and Manhattan entirely.

"If you have to drive in Manhattan," he added, "then you absolutely, definitely have to avoid western Manhattan and you have to avoid the Lincoln Tunnel."

Sure Gotham has had a convention before -- the Democrats came to the Garden in 1992 and nominated Bill Clinton.

But New York is a different place now, recalled Mario D'Auito, president of New York New York Cheesecake, who has done business on Eighth Avenue near West 31st Street for 40 years. In the post Sept. 11 world, security is much tighter.

Like many business owners in the area, D'Auito is worried about his street becoming part of a No Man's Land.

"Nothing comes close to this," said D'Auito, 75, citing the fervor expected of demonstrators. "They've never blocked off the entire area before."

Still, some say there will be benefits from the event. Foremost to benefit will be the city's economy, which will reap revenue from the swarms of delegates and the news media.

Freebies and discounts

Then there are the freebies -- in 1992, the Democrats showered 10,000 pounds of leftover food to one soup kitchen alone.

Also expect price discounts at city restaurants, theaters and entertainment venues targeting delegates to last for New Yorkers through early September.

Vinny Rose, a dispatcher for a Manhattan courier service, is looking forward to the higher-than-normal buzz the convention is expected to create.

"No doubt about it," said Rose, 43, of Astoria, "someone offered me to have their vacation, but I decided not to take it because this is where the action is."

Of course, all this raises the question of what New Yorkers should do when confronted with an out-of-town delegate, perhaps wearing a funny hat.

"Be patient and nice. It doesn't hurt to smile," said Gail Mack, of Inwood, a magazine editor. "I'm sure some of them must be very nice."

After all, she said, it could be worse.

"It'll be fun, it really will," Mack insisted. "It's only a few days. We'll survive it. We survive everything."

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