: 1BR, G.O.P. Vu…
Author: Anna Schneider-Mayerson
“I don’t want to be in a city with 10,000 Republicans. I wouldn’t last long, especially knowing Republicans are taking up seats in my favorite restaurants,” said Maryann Ford, a 36-year-old management consultant who, like many New Yorkers, is plotting an elaborate escape from New York during the week of the Republican National Convention. Step 1 was arranging to spend the week of August 30 on Cape Cod; step 2 was posting an innocent-looking listing on craigslist.org: “Charming UWS 1 BR for Republican Convention,” she wrote, even though the idea of right-wingers sleeping in her bed gives Ms. Ford the chills. To make up for the ick factor, she’s asking $2,500 for her second-floor walk-up one-bedroom-almost double what she pays in rent each month.
“I wouldn’t gouge Democrats,” said Ms. Ford. “I’d charge a fairer price. Some pot-smoking kids could definitely call me and say, ‘Dude, we’ve got to change the world, we’ve got to elect John Kerry,’ and I would relent.”
Whether it’s braying Republicans or pot-smoking protesters or bomb-toting terrorists, as summer turns the corner and the surreality of the Republican National Convention comes into view, New Yorkers are waking up to the fact that being here between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2-when 48,000 conventioneers (including 12,000 delegates, as well as lobbyists, elected officials, party hacks and journalists) are expected-might very well be the equivalent of … well, it’s hard to imagine.
Yes, Manhattan always empties out the last week of August. But this year, the exodus is inspired. “Like most New Yorkers who can swing it, I am usually out of New York in August,” said writer Fran Lebowitz. “But this year, it will not only be an act of self-indulgence, but also of self-righteousness.”
Where’s she headed?
She’s not the only one struck with the horror of, say, unwittingly flirting with a Barry Goldwater fan. In East Hampton, the short-term vacation-home rental firm Hamptons Vacations reports that callers have sent queries mentioning the Republican convention, which at first confused the staff. “Are you aware we’re 100 miles away from it?” said president Michael Kaufman, describing his first reaction. “But then they say they’d like to be out of the city and they’re not involved with it.”
According to Blue Star Jets, there are 20 percent more bookings for its $1,800 helicopter flights (seats four) to the Hamptons in that convention week than for the previous week, and 15 percent more bookings for its $2,500 turboprop rides (seats six) to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Up at the Wheatleigh hotel in Lenox, Ma., where a night costs between $545 and $1,550, rooms are filling up. “First I thought it was because there was a good jazz concert at Tanglewood,” said François Thomas, the hotel’s general manger. “But then I had contact with some of our guests, and they said they want to be out of town during the convention. First it was the weekend. Then they said that it would be a crazy week there, so they would like to be in a place that is quiet.”
“My friends all want to leave town,” said publicist Ken Sunshine, adding that he’ll spend the convention week at a hotel in L.A. or at his house in the Hamptons. “Frankly, I can’t bear to be in town when people are celebrating everything New York is not.”
The Republicans, for their part, are expecting a full house. “I think the reality is that New Yorkers are accustomed to world-class events, whether it’s the ball dropping at Times Square on New Year’s or the Yankee parade down Broadway,” said Leonardo Alcivar, press secretary for Republican National Convention. “New Yorkers know that this city balances security and ease of movement better than any other city in the world.” (Note to Mr. Alcivar:Yankee or Mets or Ranger parades always go up Broadway.)
And so far, most New Yorkers aren’t seeing the convention as a “world-class” event. Barry Shatoff, general manager of the Southampton Inn, estimated that bookings for the convention week are up 20 to 25 percent over last year. “They’re saying it’s going to be a little too crowded in the city. They don’t say it’s for politics,” he said.
Joan Wells, the innkeeper of the Queen Victoria Bed and Breakfast Inn in Cape May, N.J., said some callers have been pleading, “Oh, please, do you have a room?”
Several of those who are fleeing also see opportunity: Since the winter, the short-term rental agency Manhattan Lodgings has received about 150 calls from New Yorkers wanting to rent their apartments to conventioneers, senior vice president Rodson Manning said.
“‘I want to take their money,’” he said callers are saying of potential Republican subletters.
“A lot of people don’t want to be here because of what’s going to happen during the convention: the demonstrations, traffic nightmares,” Mr. Manning said, adding that there’s also the temptation to fleece the Republicans: “A lot of people feel that this is an opportunity to stick it to them. Even die-hard liberal Democrats would love to rent to Republicans and gouge them. Money trumps principle.”
This is the first time ever that the Republican Party is holding its convention in New York. When the Democrats nominated Bill Clinton here in 1992, liberals clamored for credentials. This time, the overlap of protest, territoriality and anxiety is palpable. For those with political spite in mind, what would be better than leaving the G.O.P. invaders with a ghost town? And for those fearing a terrorist attack, or even just panic attacks at the sight of the gridlock and sweaty tourists wrestling with subway maps, the week is seeming like prime vacation time. Then there are those who are determined to stay-and fight.
Leaving “had crossed my mind, but I’d feel like such a traitor if I did,” said Bernie Mooney, 47, a computer consultant drinking a beer at a Lower East Side bar. “I haven’t fought the good fight in a while.”
“I have some sort of English sense of not being a ninny and panicking about such things,” said novelist Zoë Heller. “Even if I did feel nervous nearer to the time, I would hate to admit it, or act on it.” She and her husband, screenwriter Lawrence Konner, considered skipping town, but have decided against it-so far.
“Personally, I’ll just split, but maybe I’m getting old or just chickenshit,” said Mr. Sunshine, who added that he’s not worried about a terrorist strike.
“I’m leaving out of protest for what they’re celebrating,” he said. “They’re celebrating a philosophy and policies that are anathema to the multicultural, progressive, pro-civil-rights, pro-minorities, pro-labor, pro-freedom-of-speech,pro-freedom-of-artistic- expression tradition that makes some of us love living and raising our children in this crazy city.”
It’s that kind of anti-Bush fervor, however, that’s driving others away from the city, raising the question: Is it the protesters or the conventioneers that New Yorkers are fleeing?
“It’s going to be mayhem. This will be the lightning rod for the anti-Bush crowd,” said Deutsche Banc analyst Edward Price, 24, an independent who voted for Bush the first time around and lives in the lefty heartland of the Upper West Side. He’ll be hiding out in an undisclosed northern Virginia suburb with his mother.
“I just want to avoid the whole deal,” said the editorial director for teNeues Publishing Company, Christina Burns, 31, who is flying to Colorado to visit her brother. “I don’t want to deal with the people who are protesting; I don’t want to deal with the delegates.”
“I just sort of have a sense of uneasiness about the convention being in New York, and I’d just rather be out of town. It’s nothing specific,” said an associate theatrical producer named Michael Milton, 47, who is taking the week off in order to put nearly a hundred miles between himself and the city at his forested Milford, Penn., weekend home. “It’s just out of a sense of danger. I know a lot of people who are leaving.
“I keep wondering, ‘Why are they even coming here?’” he added. “The whole basis of it seems so perplexing to me.”
“We’re out. But if we weren’t out, we’d be getting out,” said Toni Goodale, an Upper East Side Democratic fund-raiser. She said, however, that her daughter and son-in-law won’t be joining her and her husband Jim at their weekend home in northwestern Connecticut.
“In fact, that reminds me-I have to tell them to get out,” she said.
She added that she’ll be attending the Democratic National Convention in Boston, which is being held from July 26 to July 29. “I am little bit worried about Boston, but I’d be much more worried about New York. Plus, I think if they’re going to go after anyone, it’s going to be the Republicans.”
So far, Orbitz.com says that traffic from New York City is about the same as last year, but some local travel agents say that requests are starting to build. At Our Personal Guest on East 33rd Street, owner Pallavi Shah said, “There are quite a few people” whose escapes during that time she has helped plan. “It’s probably going to be, from a New Yorker’s standpoint, their definition of hell.”
Former Mayor Ed Koch, chairman of the convention’s volunteer drive, described New Yorkers who are leaving because they can’t stomach the idea of hordes of Republicans peppering the streets “puerile.”
“The vast majority of New Yorkers are not so foolish. They’re not going out of town because they don’t like Republicans; they’re going out of town because they think that in St. Louis, it will be easier to get into a restaurant,” he said.
“Holding the Republican convention in New York feels like a terrorist attack: If we leave, they win,” said writer Paul Rudnick. “I think it’s another test of your New Yorker–hood. We don’t worry; let the Republicans worry. I think it’s all our duty to stay put and be as intimidating as possible. Maybe we should function as missionaries and seek converts. Nobody could stay in New York that long and stay a Republican. They’ll be so judged.”