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S.D.'s Convention Bid Looks Lost to Houston : Politics: Financial support, size of hall spurs GOP committee to recommend Texas city as 1992 site.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying Houston offered more money, a bigger building and the stature of being President Bush’s hometown, GOP leaders acknowledged Tuesday that the Texas city appears to have beaten out San Diego as host of the 1992 Republican National Convention.

With its pledge of almost $11 million in cash, in addition to donated services such as police and transportation, Houston was picked by the GOP’s Site Selection Committee as its recommended choice. New Orleans, host of the 1988 convention, also had been considered.

San Diego’s only glimmer of hope for emerging as host rests with the full Republican National Committee, which will vote on the site at its meeting in Washington on Jan. 25. But, as spokesman B. J. Cooper said, the 165-member RNC has never overruled the site committee.

“This was as close a call as ever had to be made,” Jeanie Austin, co-chairman of the RNC, said in a statement. “New Orleans and San Diego would have done magnificent jobs hosting our convention, but the committee believed that the total package offered by Houston was best for the convention.”

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In San Diego, civic leaders expressed shock and disappointment, saying they had been led to believe, as Mayor Maureen O’Connor and others said, that San Diego was the clear front-runner.

O’Connor revealed Monday that San Diego’s chances appeared doomed with the GOP’s unexpected request to have the city ante up an additional $3 million. The GOP said it wanted the money to come from public funds, so as not to shortchange Republican political war chests.

Houston’s package of incentives included an estimated $10.6 million in cash in addition to security and bus services, GOP sources said. San Diego offered “a lot of potential politically--California is now that important,” but fell far short of the Houston in coming up with the necessary capital and offering a hassle-free site, a top Texas Republican said.

Civic leaders in Houston said the Astros baseball team has agreed to reschedule 21 games during the 1992 season, thus freeing up the Houston Astrodome for several weeks before and during the convention.

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Houston has never been host to the Republicans, although the city did hold a Democratic national convention in 1928, when the party nominated New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith.

For San Diego, it’s the second time the city has been snubbed by the GOP, the first occurring in 1972, when the convention was moved from the Sports Arena to Miami because of increasing fears about war-related protests in Southern California.

Another factor was the controversy surrounding the International Telephone & Telegraph Corp., which denied having won consideration in an antitrust settlement after offering to contribute up to $200,000 toward convention expenses in San Diego.

This time, the city had extended an offer of about $6 million in privately raised funds and roughly $2 million of city-donated services, sources said. But an increasingly negative factor, according to GOP leaders in both Texas and California, was the city’s proposal to use both the new bay-front San Diego Convention Center and the outdoor San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium as convention sites.

Except for John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic Convention at the Los Angeles Coliseum, no portion of a major political convention has been staged outdoors.

“Having to use two sites was too difficult a hurdle for San Diego to overcome,” Ernest Angelo, a high-ranking Republican National Committee member, said from his office in Midland, Tex. “There were a lot of advantages in going to California. I never disputed that. And if the issue were money alone, San Diego would have gotten it--or wouldn’t have been blocked in getting it. The decision was made more on the technical end.”

Angelo said technical experts for the RNC were “nervous” about having a portion of the convention outdoors and in alternating between two sites. The president’s acceptance speech would have been staged at the stadium, where the experts said he would have been squinting into an evening sun.

But the bulk of the activity would have been in the San Diego Convention Center, which many Republican insiders considered too small for the GOP’s needs. The center had been criticized for its floor-to-ceiling columns, which would have obstructed views for delegates inside the hall and for people watching on television.

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And in recent days, the Convention Center has come under scrutiny for a 9- to 12-inch vertical sway on its ballroom floor that drew complaints from dancers at a New Year’s Eve gala. The incident prompted a call for a structural reevaluation.

“Having part of it outdoors was such a break with tradition that it was hard for people to adjust,” Angelo said. “I feel good about it. It’s good for the party and good for Texas. I think this is the right decision, and that’s not a criticism of San Diego.”

Angelo and other Republican sources said one factor weighing in Houston’s favor “at the 11th-hour” was the notion that it “needs” the convention more than San Diego does.

Angelo said that Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, only recently emerged from a long period of economic uncertainty, due to the oil bust of the 1980s.

San Diego, on the other hand, will play host in 1992 to the America’s Cup sailing regatta, the major league baseball All-Star Game and two arts festivals. In January, 1993, the city may inherit Super Bowl XXVII, if the National Football League follows through on a previous declaration and moves the event from Phoenix to Southern California.

“I’m absolutely elated,” Ben Love, chairman of the Houston Host Committee, said Tuesday, noting the convention would mean an economic windfall to his city of between $60 million and $100 million.

Civic leaders in San Diego said Tuesday the city might have been able to win the convention by pledging money from its hotel-motel tax but decided against it, since they had promised not to use any public money.

Paul Downey, a spokesman for Mayor O’Connor, said the city’s defeat was strictly a monetary shortcoming and not one related to inadequate sites.

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“They knew what our facilities were like, prior to their visits,” Downey said. “They seemed comfortable with that. It was a matter of money . . . Houston was willing to give them guaranteed money, and that was the basis for the decision.”

Former San Diego mayor and new Gov. Pete Wilson was asked Tuesday morning about San Diego’s chances of landing the convention, despite the site committee’s choice.

“I don’t know what the chances are,” he said. “I would love to see it come . . . but there are problems that relate to facilities and problems with finances.”

He said it might not be “the best economic deal” for San Diego, referring, apparently, to the demand for “in-kind” services. “The city would have to figure out if they could afford that.

“So I would love to see it come there but it might be that it will go elsewhere,” he said.

Which it did. Word came out after Wilson spoke that Houston would get the convention--one day after San Diego city officials rejected requests to up the ante on their bid by $3 million in public funds.

Following the announcement, Wilson spokesman Franz Wisener said, “The convention would have been fantastic in San Diego and San Diego would have been fantastic for the convention.”

Times staff writers Ralph Frammolino and William Trombley in Sacramento and J. Michael Kennedy in Houston contributed to this report.


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