Mayor Pitches City for 1992 GOP Convention


San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor has written a letter to President Bush suggesting that San Diego be host to the August, 1992, Republican National Convention, but tourism officials remain skeptical about the prospect.

Though the mayor's letter does not constitute a formal bid for the convention, Republican officials say they hope San Diego will enter the competition, which now includes New Orleans, Houston, Cleveland and St. Petersburg, Fla.

Some city officials, however, warn that hosting the thousands of delegates, alternates, guests and news reporters that the party expects to attend the event could be too expensive for the financially strapped city. National political conventions generally require substantial public subsidies.

In addition, officials say San Diego would have to resolve possible conflicts with the America's Cup regatta and the baseball All-Star Game, already scheduled to take place here that summer.

Leslie Goodman, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said members of the selection committee have visited a few non-bidding cities, including San Diego, whose officials have expressed interest in hosting the convention.

"I think (the committee members) determined San Diego is possible, if San Diego is interested," Goodman said.

The selection committee is scheduled to make its recommendation to the full national committee in January.

A White House official who is involved with the RNC's search said the committee is still "in the exploratory phase" and is "looking at a multitude of options."

"San Diego is a well-known convention city, and you can't beat the weather," the official said.

City Manager John Lockwood said San Diego has not submitted a formal bid to the committee because "financial constraints" mean the city cannot afford to host the convention alone.

"We just didn't feel we could be in the position of submitting a proposal," Lockwood said. "The city itself has not taken a position."

Lockwood said the only way San Diego could afford to host the Republicans would be if the money came from sources other than the city, including, perhaps, the Republican Party.

O'Connor also referred to the city's well-publicized budget troubles in her letter to Bush.

"San Diego has a great deal to offer, but seed money is not part of it," O'Connor said. "We would like to have hosted both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, but the Democrats pre-selected New York and the Big Apple promised millions in city tax subsidies."

City officials in New Orleans say hosting the 1988 Republican convention there cost more than $7 million, $1.5 million of which was provided by the city. Modifications to the Louisiana Superdome and the cost of providing security for the event were responsible for most of the expense.

But Stephen Hand, coordinator for New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy's effort to attract the RNC back to his city in 1992, said the convention also pumped $100 million to $150 million into New Orleans' economy.

"We did it in 1988, and we're ready to go (in 1992). . . . We're a proven commodity," Hand said.

Al Reese, vice president for public affairs at the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, said ConVis does not know what sort of economic impact hosting the convention would have in San Diego.

But Reese said he does not think all San Diegans would enthusiastically embrace the convention.

"In (the tourism) industry, there are those who would welcome it and there are those that would be concerned about what it would do to our regular tourism traffic," Reese said. "August is the peak of our tourism year."

Complicating matters are the America's Cup regatta and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which can be expected to draw their own crowds to San Diego hotels and restaurants that summer.

Goodman said the Republican National Committee will require complete access to any facilities it will need for the convention--including the convention site, hotel rooms and office space--six weeks before the convention's starting date.

Reese said the previously scheduled events may interfere with the city's ability to meet such requirements.

But Lockwood said the increasing number of downtown hotel rooms and the recent completion of the San Diego Convention Center mean that 1992 will be the first presidential election year that the city could truly accommodate such an event.

San Diego was selected as the host city for the Republicans' 1972 convention, but the event was relocated to Miami at the last minute. The move was made after disclosures that International Telephone & Telegraph officials had promised significant financial support for the convention, partly because ITT's Sheraton Hotels subsidiary had recently opened a hotel in San Diego. In July, 1971, the same month that San Diego was chosen for the convention site, a government antitrust suit against ITT was settled out of court, allowing ITT to merge with the Hartford Insurance Group. Suspicions that a deal had been made between ITT and the GOP emerged in Washington, but congressional hearings ultimately found no wrongdoing.

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