For GOP, It’s All About Security

Posted March 19, 2004 at 4:57pm

With the Republican National Convention set to kick off in New York City just five months from now, it is becoming increasingly clear that the theme of the event can be summed up in just one word: security.

Both the message of the gathering and the practical details of mounting it will be dominated by security concerns.

Scheduled for Aug. 30 through Sept. 2, the convention’s New York setting and its proximity on the calendar to the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks will put the issue of fighting terrorism front and center, regardless of whether the GOP makes overt references to the World Trade Center tragedy.

At the same time, bringing the world’s most high-profile target — President Bush — and about 50,000 other attendees to the Big Apple just days before the anniversary will require nearly unprecedented security precautions.

While fundraising and logistical preparations are well under way, plans for the actual content of the program are still in the early stages. Convention veterans say this year’s timetable is typical.

“Usually by late May and early June you’re beginning to put the finishing touches on your program — the type of men and women who will be taking lead speaking roles and the overall tone and theme of the convention,” said Scott Reed, who managed former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole’s (R-Kan.) 1996 presidential campaign and helped plan that year’s GOP convention.

But even at this early stage, the issue environment — the ongoing war on terror coupled with concerns about job growth — make it easy to see which themes will be most prominent in New York.

“Security will dominate, but it will also be made up of economic security,” said Reed.

As for Sept. 11, the recent flap over a Bush-Cheney campaign ad that used footage of the attacks’ aftermath illustrated the balance the convention will have to strike in reminding voters of Bush’s leadership during the crisis while avoiding being seen as exploitative.

Reed argued that the campaign’s message on the issue will likely get through regardless of whether the convention spells it out.

“My sense is the Bush campaign won’t have to do much for those images to be burned into everybody’s mind,” he said.

Last week, planners announced the “program block schedule” for the convention. From Monday through Wednesday, the program will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 8:30 to 11 p.m. Eastern time. On Thursday, the show will go from 8:30 to 11 p.m.

Bill Harris, the convention’s CEO, noted that “having two program blocks on Monday through Wednesday is a unique way of conducting a convention.”

This year’s convention will include more program time than the 2000 GOP gathering in Philadelphia, which included two blocks on Monday but just one apiece on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Many of the convention speeches will likely refer to the war on terror, and highly visible security barriers around the convention site, Madison Square Garden, will also serve as a constant reminder of the issue.

The Homeland Security Department has already declared the convention a “national security event.” The Secret Service will take the lead in protecting the arena and the surrounding areas, working in conjunction with the New York Police Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FBI and a host of other law enforcement bodies.

“Every precaution possible will be taken to be sure that New York holds a safe and successful convention,” said convention spokeswoman Rori Smith.

The New York Times reported last month that federal officials plan to keep Pennsylvania Station open during the convention, but there will be far more security than usual there and at other nearby transportation hubs.

The federal government will spend about $25 million on security, while the city will pick up the tab for several million dollars more. New York has committed to raising $64 million to cover a host of expenses.

On the media front, applications for credentials are currently being processed through the House and Senate media galleries. The application deadline isn’t until May 28, but planners expect upwards of 17,000 media personnel to be credentialed for the event.

Once in New York, the media will be arrayed at a variety of locations in close proximity to the event. The bulk of the press’ workspace will be housed in the Farley Post Office building, a structure across Eighth Avenue from the Garden where more than 220,000 square feet of space will be reserved for the media.

Some press operations will also take place in the Garden itself, either in the Expo Center on the fifth floor or the theater and theater lobby on the third floor. The Garden has 89 suites that will be available for the convention, though it has not yet been determined how many will be reserved for the party and how many will be used by broadcasters.

The Farley building, the convention offices and the Garden will all be linked via air-conditioned covered bridges.

Convention planners have designated 43 official convention hotels, all of them in Manhattan. Many delegates and other attendees have already received their assignments.