In search of a lift for the city’s sinking economy and morale, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is staging an extraordinarily lavish series of events designed to persuade Democratic National Committee officials to bring their 2004 convention to New York.
Mr. Bloomberg has also enlisted the help of a transplanted New Yorker-Bill Clinton-who has recorded a video message with a lower-lip-biting reminiscence of the 1992 Democratic convention in the city, officials involved in planning the events have told The Observer. The video will be shown on a giant screen for party officials during their tour of Madison Square Garden on July 30.
When the D.N.C.’s site-selection committee arrives for a three-day tour on July 29, the officials say, party members will dine on catered delicacies from Nobu, Union Square Cafe, Tribeca Grill and Tabla-all at one sitting. They will enjoy a bus tour of the city narrated by New York documentary filmmaker Ric Burns. They will sip cocktails in a rooftop garden atop Rockefeller Center. They will have a private breakfast at Mr. Bloomberg’s mansion on East 79th Street. They will be serenaded by actress Sandy Duncan, of Peter Pan fame, who will sing a song written especially for the occasion entitled “The Winning Way.”
And during their tour of the Garden, they will watch a video of New York politicians talking about the Democratic history of the arena, which hosted conventions in 1976, 1980 and 1992. On the tape, Mr. Clinton intones: “I’ve always felt that Madison Square Garden was the perfect venue for us. It was full of the history of the Democratic Party, the memories of President Carter’s nomination in ’76, the scene of so many important things that have happened in the history of our country. For me, the Garden will always be special.”
Mr.Bloomberg-along with Loews Hotels C.E.O. and top Democratic fund-raiser Jonathan Tisch and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who are co-chairing City Hall’s effort to get the convention-has enlisted a parade of top New York restaurateurs, actors, Wall Street executives and politicians to help in the effort. And with good reason. With the stock market on the skids and the municipal-budget crisis deepening daily-and a recent blackout adding to the city’s atmosphere of 1970′s-era gloom-Mr. Bloomberg is in desperate need of some good economic tidings. Delivering a convention would fit the bill, promising to pump $180 million into the local economy and sending a message to the nation that the city remains vibrant and safe after Sept. 11.
“I personally believe that the 1992 convention helped turn the city’s fortunes around and started the change in perception the city enjoyed over the coming decade,” Dan Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development, told The Observer . “After years of bad news, people began seeing it as an exciting and interesting place. People said, ‘Wow-look at New York. This is not the place we thought it was.’”
Winning a convention in New York in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Mr. Doctoroff said, could accomplish a similar goal: “Nothing could more eloquently speak to America’s resolve not to be defeated than to see democracy celebrated in this city.”
To accomplish that goal, Mr. Bloomberg has dangled a generous bid before national party officials. The city would spend $20 million for security, while Mr. Tisch and Mr. Rubin have pledged to raise $50 million more from private-sector sources.
While party officials are guarding specific details of the bids, people familiar with the process say that New York’s public/private bid of $71.5 million is far higher than those of its main rivals. Indeed, according to an internal D.N.C. document compiled in May, Boston’s bid is $49.5 million, Detroit’s is just under $50 million, and Miami’s is $40 million.
Still, there is no shortage of factors that could scuttle Mr. Bloomberg’s goal of winning the convention. First among these are the rival cities. Boston-which, ironically enough, is Mr. Bloomberg’s native town-is making an equally aggressive pitch for the convention. The city’s effort is being orchestrated by Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, and it’s already creating yet another Boston–New York summer rivalry. Boston officials recently led D.N.C. officials on a tour of their city, stuffing them at a clambake and taking them to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
Miami and Detroit also have their advantages. Miami could help deliver Florida’s big bloc of electoral votes, which but for a few hanging chads might have gone to the Democrats in 2000. And Detroit is in the swing state of Michigan and has a strong labor presence as the home of the United Auto Workers.
Then there’s the fact that both the Mayor and Governor of New York happen to be Republicans. Some senior Democratic Party officials are wary of staging a convention here, they say, because it could highlight the G.O.P.’s successful incursions into traditionally Democratic territory.
Finally, there’s the question of whether the city can handle not one, but two conventions. Mr. Bloomberg has compiled an equally generous bid for the Republican convention, and as The Observer reported in May, he has entrusted his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, with the task of winning over the G.O.P. But in the event that the Republicans do come to the Garden, the Democrats might elect to go elsewhere. Senior Democrats have expressed some doubt that city officials will be able to reconfigure the Garden in time for their convention if the Republicans are there first.
Mr. Doctoroff dismissed those concerns. “We’ve looked at it, and we think that there’s a common infrastructure that could be employed for both conventions,” he said. “There are a lot of structural elements in common. We’d have to sit down and work it out with both parties.” The last time a city hosted both national conventions was in 1972, when both parties met in Miami.
Despite these concerns, there are plenty of factors working in New York’s favor-such as the presence of Mr. Tisch and Mr. Rubin. The two men are reassuring to Democratic Party officials, because their extensive private-sector connections ensure that they’ll succeed in raising the funds they’ve pledged to raise-unlike in 2000, when Los Angeles officials found themselves scrambling to come up with the promised cash.
“Having nationally respected figures like Tisch and Rubin ensures that we have the support of the business community,” said Robert Zimmerman, a member of the D.N.C. and a top fund-raiser in New York. “And the support of business leaders is as critical as the backing of the labor movement in making the convention work.” Adding to this credibility in the financial community, much of the organizing will be done by Mr. Tisch’s close associate, Jeffrey Stewart, the finance chairman of Charles Schumer’s 1998 Senate campaign.
A Lavish Tour
Then there’s the lavish presentation being planned, which focuses on wooing Democratic Party officials with wine and song. When members of the site-selection committee arrive in New York on the afternoon of July 29, they are scheduled to be taken to Times Square Studios, the home of Good Morning America . There they will be joined by Mr. Bloomberg, as well as Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. Restaurateurs Danny Meyer and Drew Nieporent will be on hand serving food from their famous kitchens. A cast of actors and singers led by Ms. Duncan is set to stage a Broadway-style show for the visitors, in which they’ll sing “The Winning Way.”
The event in Times Square is meant to emphasize two points: first, that New York is not only fully functional again, but entirely safe; and second, that coming to New York means being within walking distance of the headquarters of many of the world’s biggest media companies. In an era when lackluster politicians and shrinking news budgets have led ratings-obsessed networks to pay less attention to political conventions, Mr. Bloomberg hopes to persuade D.N.C. officials that proximity to media companies will pay off in crucial prime-time coverage.
“If they have the convention here, it will resonate throughout the rest of the country to a far greater degree than if they have it anywhere else,” Mr. Rubin said. “Given that coverage is declining, I think that’s a compelling case.”
On the morning of July 30, the officials will attend a breakfast hosted by Mr. Bloomberg in the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That event, attended by a number of top local labor leaders, is designed mainly to let national party officials know that their convention won’t be marred by any labor problems.
After the breakfast, a bus tour narrated by Mr. Burns will carry the officials to Madison Square Garden, where they’ll watch the video and be led on a detailed technical tour of the arena. They will attend a luncheon at the New York Stock Exchange, a not-so-subtle reminder that there’s no better place to raise political cash than New York. That evening, the guests will be treated to cocktails atop Rockefeller Center and dinner in the Rainbow Room. And the next morning, they will have a farewell breakfast at Mr. Bloomberg’s Upper East Side mansion. (Yes, that last one was Mr. Bloomberg’s idea.)
In the end, it’s not clear what impact all the morsels of Nobu sushi will have on high-level decision-making among national Democrats. The most important factors in choosing the location of a convention-even more important than the politics-are the size of the bid and the chosen city’s likelihood of being able to handle such an immense logistical challenge. In that regard, of course, New York has a good shot. It has proven itself up to the transportation challenge-in 1992, the city ran shuttle buses up and down the avenues between midtown hotels and the Garden. And unlike other cities, which have to rely on hotels in far-flung suburbs, New York has 66,000 hotel rooms, the vast majority of which are on the same island as the arena.
“Democrats have very fond memories of the 1992 convention, and 9/11 clearly makes New York the sentimental favorite,” said a Democratic Party official in Washington. “But the bottom line will be, first, which city has the best bid, and second, how well the city stands up to its bid in reality.”