TURN on the evening TV news for just a glimpse of the 1992 Democratic National Convention and one is likely to tune into images of a crowded Madison Square Garden in the midst of a raucous Manhattan Island. Little wonder, given the presence of thousands of convention delegates - as well as thousands of reporters - that the image of New York City sent out to the world involves gritty stories about crime, street disturbances, poverty, and homelessness, not to mention ubiquitous demonstrations including pro - and anti-abortion rights groups.
But beyond all the noise from the streets and the traditional convention hoopla, there is another city here, one not often seen on the news: That's the "real" New York, fondly known as the "Big Apple" - a diverse, growing city of 7.3 million people. And this New York is still the financial, cultural, and economic capital of the United States.
Most city residents take the din of the convention in stride, since national conventions are hardly unique for this town. Historically, the Democratic Party and New York City have gotten along quite well, reflecting the urban, labor, and immigrant makeup of the Big Apple. The Tammany Hall club here was once the foremost (and somewhat notorious) Democratic Party organization in the US.
This year's Democratic convention marks the fifth held in the city. The party first convened in New York in 1868, when delegates nominated New York Gov. Horatio Seymour on the 22nd ballot. They met here again in 1924, 1976, and 1980.
When it comes to the "quality of life" in New York City itself, close to three-fourths of all residents actually like living here, which may come as quite a jolt to folks living beyond the Hudson River. While New Yorkers are concerned about crime, drugs, and economic conditions, more than 80 percent of the people here are "proud to be New Yorkers," says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
The main challenge here, he says, is race. More than 90 percent of all New Yorkers say they believe that race relations are in serious trouble, underscored by street unrest in such communities as Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, and Crown Heights in Brooklyn.
Part of the reason for racial turbulence is linked to changing demographics. By day, New York is still a largely "Anglo" town - with some 700,000 commuters pouring into Manhattan from the suburbs. But when those outsiders go home at night, the demographics of the city become quite different.
The majority of New Yorkers - those folks who actually live here - are now a mixture of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Moreover, longtime minority groups - such as blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Chinese-Americans - face intense competition for jobs from the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who flocked to the Big Apple during the 1980s.
Some sociologists say that the newcomers have saved the city, since they have offset a decline in older population groups who moved to the suburbs. Still, the city's changing economic base - with low-paying service jobs replacing traditional skilled manufacturing jobs - has led to strains between existing minority groups, such as blacks, and the newcomers.
Counting illegal aliens, close to 1 million immigrants arrived here during the 1980s, according to the US Census Bureau. Whereas the immigrants of the early part of this century were largely from Europe, today's immigrants are mainly from the Caribbean and Asia. Most important, immigrants have "revitalized entire neighborhoods of New York," according to Rosemary Scanlon, chief economist for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Despite a current unemployment rate of more than 11 percent for New York - reflecting the national economic slowdown - the immigrant groups tend to be "resilient and entrepreneurial," Ms. Scanlon says. She believes that there will be enough room for the newcomers, in terms of jobs and places to live. (See accompanying story.) Nor is she overly pessimistic about the city's economy, which remains highly diversified.
The city still boasts of having more headquarters of Fortune 500 companies - more than 40 - than any other city in the US. Major business sectors headquartered here include the securities industry, banking, advertising, publishing, and fashion and apparel.
Many of these industries, Scanlon notes, are doing fairly well. Wall Street, for example, has been turning in profits "for six quarters in a row now." Air travel out of the New York area's three airports (two of them located in the city) are up 6 percent compared with the first third of last year. And an increasing number of companies are hiring workers, Scanlon says.
Yet it would be misleading to overlook a number of negative factors that Republicans and supporters of Ross Perot can be expected to mention during the presidential campaign, when they will almost surely seek to link the Democratic Party, which held its convention here, with the "bad" side of the Big Apple. New York State leads the nation in terms of job losses during the past two years - almost a half-million jobs gone, many of them within city limits. And business failures, according to Dun & Bradstree t, a business research organization, shot up sharply. In 1989 there were 470 failures in New York. Last year, there were more than 2,400 failures, more than half of them in Manhattan.
Still, local economic conditions are improving. And one beneficiary of New York's overall stability is the city's first black mayor, David Dinkins. The mayor is a conciliator who eschews the "sock-it-to-them" confrontational style favored by his predecessor, Edward Koch. Mr. Dinkins's ratings have shot up recently.
But whether that gain will be enough to ensure a second term is uncertain: More people still disapprove than approve of the Mayor. But then again, New Yorkers love to grouse about almost everything. What they won't tell anyone, pollsters say privately, is how much they actually admire the Big Apple!