If you're throwing a party for 20,000 people, more than anything else you want to be ready. That's why Detroiters are keeping one eye on the clock as they race to get everything in place for the 1980 Republican National Convention. The opening session is not until July 14 but the arrangements are almost as finalized and the atmosphere here as hectic -- right down to the constantly ringing phones -- as if leaders of the Grand Old Party were moving into town tomorrow.
As her personal reminder that nothing counts like being prepared, Carol Gies, executive director of the Civic Host Committee which is coordinating most of the nonpolitical convention activities, keeps a cartoon titled "Remember Lake Placid" close by her telephone.
"It was sent to me anonymously," she explains. "The message is, 'If you ignore the basic creature comforts, nothing else matters. People have got to be rested, well-fed, and on-time.'"
If the logistics of that job fall through, she Says, "I'll get run out of town."
Detroit, which is hosting its first national political convention, is treating the event as a festive occasion which is sure to help local business and enhance the city's image as a major convention center and a city fast making a comeback from urban decay. As Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, a Democrat and Carter supporter, puts it: "The entire world will see that Detroit is indeed alive and well."
The operating theme is "Detroit loves a good party," and accordingly there will be something for almost everyone. Visitors will be welcomed the day before the convention with a gala opening regatta along the city's waterfront and invited that evening to a citywide party at the Detroit Plaza Hotel featuring, among other things, red, white, and blue popcorn.
Daily events will range from jazz concerts in the open air to ferry rides across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario, where eight of the state delegations will be staying. For those who do not want to forget their GOP ties , there will be elephant rides in Hart Plaza. The granite and concrete slabs there have already been weight-tested to be sure they will hold the full-sized elephant which is to be borrowed for the week from the Detroit Zoo.
So many Detroiters have volunteered their services, for everything from licking envelopes to adopting delegates and their families for the week, that the Civic Host Committee has cut back its call for outside help.
"Volunteers were told right away that there would be no passes to the convention floor but that didn't seem to scare many of them off," notes Mrs. Gies.
Her committee was also surprised by the turnout of 450 businessmen with souvenir ideas ranging from neon elephants to red, white,and blue clocks as fund-raising ideas.
"We thought we'd be working in a vacuum but the businesses converged on us," says Mrs. Gies.
Ultimately the committee decided to spread the risk and ensure the constant availability of supplies by contracting with a direct-order mail firm for official souvenirs from T-shirts to paperweights.
All Detroit businesses and public service people have been warned to expect an abundance of questions and plenty of activity at odd hours, before and after the evening sessions. But, contrary to some reports which surfaced a few weeks ago, cab drivers have not been told they must keep their political opinions to themselves.
Rather, the last line of a draft brochure of advice for service industry personnel warned that emotions run high during such conventions and that an offhand political remark might easily offend. According to Mrs. Gies, that observation got picked up by a local newspaper and carried by the wire services to the point where she was awakened one morning at 6:30 by a call from a New York radio station asking how it was that she had happened to tell Detroit cabbies to "shut up and drive." She contends the advice, no longer in the brochure, was blown out of all proportion and that Detroit cab drivers are as free as anyone else to say what they wish.
The line between politics and civic hosting, however, occasionally runs thin, and one place where convention organizers are having to draw it firmly is on any reimbursement for parties arranged for state GOP delegations. Technically any money used for hosting these parties must not be raised by political organizations for political purposes, such as promoting candidates or platform items. Details on fund-raising, so far entirely drawn from private business, and spending must be supplied to the Civic Host Committee. And hosts, wile most likely to be Republican, are asked to be on their best political behavior.
"We're asking hosts to be careful about stating their GOP preferences," explains Ranny Riecker, chairman of the Republican Host Committee and the Republican National Committeewoman from Michigan.
While Detroiters have more than generous in offering to roll out the red carpet for convention-goers, Mrs. Riecker admits there is one frequent and well-intentioned offer that "drives me wild." It is from people who want to plan special entertainment for the wives.
"We on the national committee and here in the state of Michigan have worked hard to have at least 50 percent women as delegates," says Mrs. Riecker. "In any case, I don't think the women coming would be as interested in a cooking demonstration as in a political demonstration."
Some may count it a sign of the times that Cobo Hall, the nation's second-largest convention hall, will actually be used as a media rather than a convention headquarters. Twice as many newspaper and broadcasting representatives are expected as total delegates and alternates. The convention itself will be held in neighboring Joe Louis Arena, which has more and better seating, according to Paul Clark of the Republican National Convention staff. He notes that construction work on podiums and press platforms in the arena will begin the first week in June.