The Upcoming Conventions

OK, so I know traffic in Boston sucks. And New York traffic isn’t that bad, either. But if you’ve been following the online stories about the upcoming Democratic and Republican conventions, you’ll notice a theme. For the first time, I’ve seen a not-so-completely negative story coming out about the Democratic convention in Boston (click for story). Story after story has been negative, about traffic, closing roads, people being inconvenienced, ad nauseum. But what about the upcoming Republican convention in New York? Has the press hammered the Republicans for using New York and a later than usual convention (read: 9/11 backdrop) to political gain? No. Have there been stories about New Yorkers being inconvenience by the convention? No. The only time the Republicans got bad press was when the GOP was going to rent a cruise ship for big donors to sleep on, depriving the city of much needed revenue.

Fair? In this day and age of a press that’s wrapped up the GOP’s colon, it’s not fair, but it’s to be expected.Boston Residents Support Hosting of Democratic National Convention, Poll Shows

By Rick Klein, The Boston Globe Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Apr. 7 – A strong majority of Greater Boston residents believe that hosting the Democratic National Convention will be worth the hassles, a sentiment fueled by expectations that the convention will boost Boston’s image around the country and trigger increased economic activity, a Boston Globe poll indicates.

But nearly two-thirds of those polled opposed the use of city or state tax dollars to cover convention costs, even as they become increasingly convinced that organizers will fail in their goal of raising all the cash they need from the private sector.

In addition, while 56 percent opposed the decision to shut down North Station and Interstate 93 during the convention, three-fourths of commuters who use either the commuter rail hub or I-93 to get to work said they plan to travel into Boston while the convention is in town, despite the closings. Fifty-nine percent of commuters polled said they will find alternative routes during the convention, which will be held July 26-29 at the FleetCenter.

The poll suggests that area residents are well aware of some of the obstacles and headaches they will have to endure when the Democrats converge to nominate their presidential candidate. But residents seem to have decided that the short- and long-term benefits of Boston’s hosting its first national political convention make the costs worthwhile.

“They’re willing to put up with it, because they think it will be worth it, both economically and in terms of Boston’s image,” said Gerry Chervinsky, president of KRC Communications Research of Newton, which conducted the poll.

The poll surveyed 400 adults who live in cities and towns inside or along the Route 128 corridor, and was taken by phone last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Convention planners have endured negative press attention in recent weeks, with stalled fund-raising, labor unrest that threatens to disrupt the event, and commuting nightmares predicted with the announced closings of I-93 and North Station.

But the poll indicated that Greater Boston residents still view the convention in a positive light. Fifty-seven percent of those polled agreed that “it’s worth it to put up with the inconvenience caused by holding the convention here,” and 58 percent said they believe city and Democratic officials when they say the convention will benefit the area’s economy.

Support for the convention is far stronger among registered Democrats and independents; 54 percent of registered Republicans polled said the convention won’t be worth the inconvenience.

Laura Brink, who commutes from Watertown to Beverly for her job as associate director of admissions at Endicott College, said her commute will be severely delayed by the planned closing of I-93 during the evenings of the convention. But she said that while she disagrees with the decision to shut down the interstate, the convention will be great for the city.

“If I’m stuck in a traffic jam, I’m certainly going to be saying, ‘That damn convention,” ” said Brink, 32. “But it’s a mistake for people to think this is a bad thing for this to come into town. I’m really excited about it. I hope there’s some way I can participate or get involved or attend.”

The poll found significant anxiety about the possibility of a terrorist attack on Boston during the convention, with 56 percent of those surveyed saying they were either very or somewhat concerned about that prospect. A statewide Globe poll taken in January 2002, just a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, found that 82 percent of residents were very or somewhat concerned about a terrorist attack anywhere in the country.

Despite terrorism concerns, only 26 percent of those polled said they agreed with the decision to shut down North Station and I-93, moves that were ordered by the US Secret Service because of security concerns.

To poll respondent Robert Hassett of Hyde Park, the fact that access to Boston has to be limited speaks to why the convention isn’t going to be worth it for Boston-area residents.

“If they’re closing the expressway and the surrounding area, where people can’t get in, now they’re shutting out the Boston [area] people who are here all the time,” said Hassett, 60, an employee of the state Division of Urban Parks and Recreation. “They’re saying just take vacation, but what if they can’t get the time off?”

Hassett said he’d prefer to see the convention at the new convention center in South Boston, instead of the FleetCenter, a concept that a plurality of those polled, 41 percent to 35 percent, supported. Governor Mitt Romney floated that possibility publicly last month, but his idea was quickly rejected as impractical by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Democratic Party officials. Registered Democrats expressed a slight preference for the FleetCenter, with 46 percent supporting it as a convention venue and 36 percent backing the new convention center.

Judith Doherty, a 47-year-old product specialist for Toshiba, said it is obvious to her that the Democrats want the convention at the FleetCenter primarily so they can enjoy the restaurants of downtown Boston and the North End.

But Doherty, who doesn’t commute to the city, said she feels that, given the resources that have already been pumped into the convention, having the event at the FleetCenter is worth it, because there’s no turning back.

“We’ve invested all this kind of money, but what are we going to say, ‘Don’t come’?” said Doherty, who lives in Beverly.

Convention organizers maintain that they’ll be able to raise enough money to finance the convention’s $64.5 million budget without leaning on city or state taxpayers. But only 31 percent of respondents said they believe that will happen, with 50 percent saying they expect the city or the state “will wind up having to contribute funds to cover the cost.”

“Maybe it’s my cynicism, but I can’t imagine that the tax base isn’t going to get hit by it,” said Marty Amberg, 52, a consultant who lives in Salem. “But so be it. You pay taxes, and you might as well pay taxes for something that’s worthwhile for your city.”

Julie Burns — executive director of Boston 2004, the convention host committee — told reporters yesterday that area residents largely see the convention as good for the region. She said the committee has signed up 10,600 volunteers, well over the 8,000 it promised.

Indeed, 16 percent of those polled said they plan to participate in a convention-related event or attend the convention. The poll was taken before the host committee announced its “Celebrate Boston 2004” campaign, which will feature a month-long series of convention-related events.

Because the convention itself will involve so few area residents directly, the 16 percent figure suggests that many residents aren’t quite sure what the event entails, according to Chervinsky.

“There is obviously a percentage that think this is a spectator sport of some kind,” he said.

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