'Conventional' wisdom: Still true after 9/11?
A political convention gives Boston major publicity. But for some in city, it's a bust.
BOSTON — He is a Republican, but still, Skip Perry says he looked forward to a chance to watch the political process unfold on his doorstep: His photo and framing shop in downtown Boston looks onto the FleetCenter, home of this year's Democratic National Convention.
But it turns out Mr. Perry will have an obstructed view. An 8-foot barricade will rise above his store, blocking democracy from his sight, and more important, he says, blocking his store from customer view. It doesn't bode well for business.
As the first presidential nominating convention to be held since 9/11 nears, Boston has already warned residents that their commutes will be tougher, court trials and nonemergency surgeries will be postponed, and locals would do well to telecommute or take a vacation from July 26-29.
Colossal media-rich events have always given host cities a coveted chance to show their best face for the world. And they still do. But with the ever-present threat of terrorism - a threat that has led the Department of Homeland Security to intensify security measures for both party conventions this summer - many here wonder if playing host is the boon it once was.
"I hope it will be good for Boston," says Perry. "It's still a big thing. But I think [officials] will be more thoughtful and spend more time analyzing what they want" to host in the future.
The question is relevant for any big city, but it has particular resonance here. Aside from the new nationwide focus on countering terrorism, the site of Boston's convention includes some unique logistical challenges. Commuters drive on a major interstate that passes mere feet away from the FleetCenter. One of the city's major train hubs is adjacent to the building. Both will close down during convention week.
According to Beverly Ford, a spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, a "hard zone" around the convention center will be strictly off-limits to anyone without credentials. Nearly 40 miles of roadway will be closed. The Coast Guard will guard nearby waterways. And public-transit riders will be subject to bag searches. In all, the security budget has reached $50 million, more than half of the convention's total budget.
Sally Nitzsche commutes every day from Reading, Mass., to North Station. During the event she'll have to get off of the train earlier and transfer to the metro system, a change she expects will tack another 25 minutes onto her commute. And instead of beginning work at 8:30 a.m., her start time has been pushed back to 7 a.m. That means she'll have to leave her house at 5:30 a.m. "I'm not upset but I don't like fussing around," says Ms. Nitzsche. "I thought [having a convention here] would be interesting. As the time gets nearer, it's just a nuisance."
Not everyone is bracing for the worst. Thousands of delegates from across the nation will provide a boost of revenue to city institutions. And the fact that John Kerry is expected to formally be chosen as the Democratic candidate in his hometown has not been lost on many. Bob O'Brien, executive director of the Downtown North Association, which represents businesses and residents in the FleetCenter's neighborhood, says residents and businesses could face burdens, but that overall the community is honored to play host.
"It's a mixed bag, but on balance we think it's a good thing," says Mr. O'Brien. "Many of them are staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants."
Back at Cyberphoto and Frame, Perry combs back a customer's hair before taking his photograph for a passport. Others filter in with similar requests. "This is what I won't get [during the convention]," he says. "But I can't afford to shut down." For Alison Hitesman, who lives in Waltham, Mass., it is still unclear what makes the most logistical sense during the convention. Her boyfriend thinks they should stay outside of the city and commute into work; She thinks it might make the most sense to "park" in his apartment on Beacon Hill. "It's exciting for Boston," Ms. Hitesman says, "and it's a huge inconvenience." She says she may just go on vacation.
She's not alone. A poll of 1,600 area residents by a local firm, Vacation outlet, found 77 percent planning a vacation.
New York will face its own share of disruptions when it hosts the Republican convention. But that city is an old hand at playing host, and it appears Boston will face more hassles.
Some say any pain Bostonians feel is partly self-inflicted.
"It's the Red Sox-induced gloom and doom persona of the Bostonian that is endemic in the psyche of the citizens. Of course the sky is falling," says Tobe Berkovitz, associate dean of Boston University's College of Communication. "In this case, they have at least decent reason to believe it."