Campaign Visits Cost New York City Millions

1348018615 midtown manhattan closed down for president obamas visit to letterman 1458666 Campaign Visits Cost New York City Millions

Who pays for street closures when Obama visits?

In the remaining hours of election day, as waves of patriotic feeling and democratic pride wash over the city, it’s easy to forget what a headache this whole affair has been. The endless TV ads, the increasingly desperate campaign emails, the traffic-snarling fundraising visits.

But whichever candidate emerges victorious tonight, in the days and weeks to come, we will all have to contend with that post-election hangover, in which we acknowledge the colossal amount of time, energy and money—so much money!—the democratic process has cost this season.

As a favorite stop on both candidates’ fundraising circuits, New York pays a particularly high price—millions of dollars in police overtime to supplement the Secret Service—for the privilege of throwing money at the candidates during each election.

Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney waste any time trying to win votes here, of course (unlike coy Ohio, city and state wears their hearts on its sleeve), but they do love to visit the deep-pocketed donors lining either side of Central Park.

New York is home to the top two fund-raising ZIP codes for both Mr. Obama (the Upper West Side ZIP code 10024) and Mitt Romney (the Upper East Side’s 10021), according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. But not all the money disappearing from New Yorkers’ pockets is going to campaign coffers; a lot of it is going to NYPD overtime, a cost for which cities are, as a general rule, not reimbursed.

Between August 2011 and June 2012, the city spent $4.75 million on presidential visits, according to figures provided by the NYC Independent Budget Office. The NYPD did not respond to a request for information on police overtime costs for candidate visits.

The IBO only tracks the cost of presidential visits and does not have figures for the other party candidate, although such visits are generally somewhat less expensive because mere candidates do not require as much security as a sitting president. Still, Mr. Romney has not neglected New York’s wealthy donors or their fundraising fetes. And he also travels with a detail of street-closing Secret Service agents.

The most expensive month for the city during that span was  September 2011, when the president visited for three days to attend the UN General Assembly and headline several fundraising events. The overtime costs ran to $1.27 million, according to the IBO. The least expensive was in January 2012, when Mr. Obama ducked into the city for a quick bout of fundraising, running up $308,118 in police overtime costs.

For the most part, New Yorkers’ complaints about fundraising visits have focused on traffic jams, but other cities and towns have tried (to no avail) to get the candidates’ campaigns to foot the bills for visits. After Obama and Romney hit up the rich folks in Newport Beach several times this year, the city sent each of their campaigns invoices for the police overtime; it viewed the visits are private events.

“Had this been a ‘business’ trip—if the president came to Newport Beach to talk about one of his policies with our residents—the city would not have sent an invoice,” city manager Dave Kiff told The Los Angeles Times.

The city tried to recoup $35,000 from the Obama campaign, but the Secret Service insisted that it never reimburses localities for the cost of campaign security. If a city can’t afford the expense, it should ask for help ahead of time from the state police, the Secret Service told the paper.

Nor was it the first time a municipality revolted over the expense of election-related attentions. Cleveland, exhausted by the endless visits it received as a swing-state metropolis in 2004, billed President Bush and John Kerry more than $270,000 for the security it provided during nine campaign visits. But as USA Today reported at the time, neither campaign was much inclined to pay for the police, planning, ambulances and garbage pick-up that the visits required, although  Dubuque, Iowa was able to get $1,300 from the Bush campaign and $3,000 from the Kerry Campaign that year. Which might sound encouraging if not for the fact that the city asked for $18,400 to cover its  expenses during three visits.

In a city as densely packed as New York, every visit is significantly more complicated and expensive than it is in other locales.  A fact that Mayor Bloomberg is not unaware of. After all, even as he endorsed Obama for president, he asked the president not to visit in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It would have been great to see the president, but his motorcade? And you thought the marathon was bad.

kvelsey@observer.com