Conventioneering, Chicago-Style

City contends with protesters, police before Democrats arrive on Aug. 26

Not that Bill Clinton will face serious competition later this month when Democratic delegates choose their presidential nominee here. Still, there is that bear ....

In a window high above busy shoppers on Chicago's Michigan Avenue sits a giant stuffed teddy, decked out in red, white, and blue. FAO Schwarz's house bear waves a banner proclaiming his candidacy: "Truffles for President."

Truffles is just one more indicator, along with the flapping red and blue banners that line many city streets, that Chicago is ready and waiting for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which begins Aug. 26.

This is Chicago's first convention since the tumultuous events of the 1968 Democratic convention, when police and protesters clashed in a cloud of tear gas. Determined not to replay history, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose father was in charge of the city in '68, is making a vigorous effort to welcome protesters and encourage media coverage of their issues.

But in true Chicago style, even this effort is cloaked in controversy. It's just one of the hurdles Mayor Daley and DNC planners need to overcome to ensure a smooth three-day convention.

Among the concerns: Police supervisors who want the right to bargain collectively may hit the streets - as protesters. Then there are the strong-arm tactics of taxi drivers, who threaten to "stall" their cabs in intersections if they don't get a fare hike by the time the convention starts.

Topping the list, though, is security for Chicagoans and 35,000 expected visitors. Law-enforcement officials from 33 jurisdictions, including the Secret Service and the Chicago police, have been meeting for a year and a half to map strategy. Major security perimeters will be set up around the United Center, the two-year-old convention site where participants must pass through metal detectors, and around the Sheraton Hotel, where the Clinton family will stay.

City officials insist that the pipe-bomb explosion in Atlanta during the Olympics has not notably changed their strategy. Yet Chicago Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez admits that security measures for Grant Park, where an Aretha Franklin concert and fireworks will kick off the convention Aug. 23, now may include increased police patrols and use of dogs trained to sniff out explosives.

"Security will be very tight," confirms City Hall spokeswoman Kimberly Costello.

To accommodate protesters, Chicago has established two sites for demonstrations: one at an outer parking lot at the United Center and the other on a Grant Park corner where violence erupted during the '68 convention.

"We're hoping that people will come in great numbers to exercise their First Amendment rights," insists the Chicago police department's Paul Jenkins.

To avoid charges of favoritism, Daley asked the firm of Ernst and Young to conduct a lottery to award one-hour time slots at the two sites to all protesters seeking permits. Some of the would-be demonstrators have been openly perplexed by the intensity of the city's efforts to befriend and negotiate with them. A few have filed lawsuits, charging that Chicago is denying their rights by not letting them get closer to the United Center to make their cases.

Though the city's last convention was 28 years ago, Chicago has hosted 25 presidential nominating conventions, more than any other American city.

Usually cities that win such bids foot major expenses. But Daley made it clear from the start that he wanted to keep taxpayer costs down and to raise as much as possible from the private sector. He tapped Ameritech Corp. president Richard Notebaert and his own younger brother, attorney William Daley, to raise $3 million to $5 million in the name of civic pride. The two dialed up other company leaders, many of whom presumably vote Republican, and raised $9 million. Since then, city businesses have contributed another $3 million in supplies and pro bono personnel.

Over at "Chicago '96," the bipartisan host committee that serves as a clearinghouse for all city convention action, telephones ring nonstop. The phone lines are humming with calls from the media, expected to outnumber the 5,000 delegates 3 to 1, and volunteers eager to be part of the convention action.

Adrian Garibay, director of volunteers, tells yet another caller that the city will add her name to the waiting list. The city has 400 more helpers than the 7,000 it sought. "Most people are willing to do anything," says Mr. Garibay. "Working out schedules is the hard part."

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