2004-08-26 / Front Page

GOP Here Monday To Anoint Bush/Cheney

by john toscano

Amid concerns sparked by terror alerts from abroad, anti-war protests, combative police union officials and a huge influx of visitors, which has resulted in the tightest security measures in the city’s history, the Republican National Convention will bow at Madison Square Garden next Monday for a four-day conclave which will launch President George W. Bush and running mate Vice President Dick Cheney into the final stages of one of the closest presidential races in memory.

An army of convention delegates, their families and friends, an estimated 50,000 people, started streaming into Manhattan over the weekend for the quadrennial GOP political love fest, which will end next Thursday with the nomination of the Bush/Cheney ticket.

Possibly an equal amount of visitors also jammed local airports as they arrived for opening day on Monday of the US Open, the annual acclaimed tennis tournament to be held at the U.S. Tennis Center in Flushing.

The huge influx of pols and sports fans was met by a small army of 10,000 cops with the difficult job of protecting them as well as the thousands of end-of-summer tourists and the millions of New Yorkers going about their daily business.

The Bush/Cheney team will have 65 days after the convention of non-stop, no-holds-barred campaigning throughout the country to try to nail down a re-election victory over their Democratic opponents, John Kerry and John Edwards.

A string of polls and surveys have shown that the contest is too close to call, with the lead shifting back and forth. Several planned Bush/Kerry debates may well give one candidate or the other to the margin of victory.

The Republicans have lined up an impressive list of party luminaries to help stir the combative juices of their rank and file members, both those at the Garden in Manhattan and the millions of party faithful throughout the country who will be glued to their television sets for the spectacle.

Included in the convention lineup are former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the top attractions in the party; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who came from nowhere to capture the state which has the biggest electoral vote total; host Governor George Pataki and host Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Vietnam war hero who balances Kerry’s appeal to the key veterans’ vote.

Last Thursday, the Republican National Committee announced that U.S. Senator Zell Miller, a conservative pro-Bush Democrat from Georgia, would deliver the convention keynote address on Wednesday, September 1. Cheney will also speak on that evening.

On opening night, Giuliani will be spotlighted as well as McCain and Bloomberg. Giuliani’s theme will be “Courage of a Nation.” The opener will be a September 11 tribute.

On Tuesday evening, the theme will be “Compassion of the American People.” First Lady Laura Bush and Schwarzenegger will deliver speeches.

Occupying a key spot in the schedule, Pataki will speak on the theme, “Build a safer world and a more hopeful America.” He will be followed by Bush delivering his acceptance speech, the highlight of the convention.

It had been reported that the late President Ronald Reagan’s son, Michael, would speak at the convention, but there was no mention of him in last Thursday’s announcement.

The September 11 tribute on opening night is expected to include some relatives of those killed in the World Trade Center attack. Giuliani will reportedly have high praise for Bush’s handling of the post September 11 period and the war on terror, in general.

Democratic veterans got a chuckle out of the choice of Miller as keynote speaker. Some recalled when Miller gave a nominating speech for then Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton, he tore into President George H.W. Bush, the incumbent’s father.

Queens will be represented at the convention by nine delegates and eight alternates, headed by the party’s county leader, state Senator Serphin Maltese.

The veteran pol, who has guided the party’s fortunes from his Middle Village base for almost two decades said that he and the convention delegates were proud to have been chosen to participate directly in nominating “our great Republican presidential team, President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for re-election this November.”

Maltese continued: “Our Queens Republican delegation is the most diverse delegation attending the convention. I am proud to say that all of our delegates and alternate delegates are very involved in the communities they represent, and they illustrate the traditional family moral values that our party and president are furthering and protecting.”

The delegation consists of men and women—long-term party leaders and the organization’s top hierarchy, younger members and members of the black and immigrant community.

Besides Maltese, the party chairman, other delegates are Executive Vice Chairwoman Marguerite Adams, a Glendale GOP leader for about half a century; First Vice Chairman Edward T. Coyne of Woodside, with length of service equal to Adams’; and Vice Chairpersons Katherine James and Morris Lee, both of Jamaica; Philip Ragusa of Beechhurst; Meilin Tan of Flushing and Stephen H. Weiner of Long Island City.

Along with James and Lee, Alma T. Whittaker and Leroy Carmichael, also of Jamaica, represents the black community in the delegation.

Another elected public official in the delegation besides Maltese is City Councilmember Dennis P. Gallagher from Middle Village/Ridgewood, the only Republican in the Queens council delegation. Gallagher is a longtime community and youth sports activist.

Other women delegates, who are among the party newcomers in the delegation, are Kim Peterson of South Ozone Park, and Meagan Costello of Briarwood, both attorneys; Saida Rodriquez–Tabone, an assistant principal at Forest Hills H.S., who recently moved with her husband, Vincent, and family from Astoria to Bayside; Lauren Cacioppo, a student at the CUNY School of Law and party treasurer; Marjorie Jiminez, a Hispanic American community leader from Rego Park, and Stephanie Zgaljic of Astoria.

Bush and Cheney, in their addresses to the convention, are expected to place heavy emphasis on waging the war in Iraq to make the world safer for the United States and other nations, and reiterate his objective to achieve peace for the Iraqi people.

The president has strongly defended his tax cuts, giving them as the reason for the revival of the nation’s economy. He has cited his creation of the Homeland Security Department and his sponsorship of the Medicare prescription drug reform law as two of his most important achievements.

However, the Iraq war, anti-terrorism efforts, the economy and prescription drugs continue to be thorny issues in the daily campaign give and take with Kerry.

Polls show seniors are dissatisfied with the prescription drug discount cards issued under the new reform law. They also keep asking for legislation to legalize drug imports which would lower their prescription bills, they claim.

However, Bush opposes drug reimportation, saying it is unsafe. In this, he is aligned with the major drug manufacturers who recently retained former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to conduct a study which would back up their contention that drug imports would be unsafe for U.S. consumers.

Meanwhile, Kerry has announced he will continue to campaign during the convention, and Democratic Party leaders are planning to field “truth squads” at the same time with a “Misleading In Manhattan campaign.

The Dems will trot out New York’s congressional delegation. Congressmembers Joseph Crowley and Carolyn Maloney have already been assailing Bush over his Medicare reform plan and the lack of homeland security funding.

The state’s two U.S. Senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, will also deliver Truth Squad barbs.

Ever since Bloomberg convinced the Republican party leaders to hold their convention here, he had anticipated that the flood of delegates and others into the city would provide a short-term economic boost. He put his tourism people to work setting up evenings at Broadway shows and nightclubs and various other entertainment venues, as well as special museum programs and other cultural events.

But since a major terror alert was issued about a month ago, which had Al Qaeda targeting the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup Building, a disquieting feeling arose that the convention would provide a major terrorist target. From that point on, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly started to prepare a master security plan to meet any eventuality.

In short order, major anti-war groups were said to be preparing plans for a monster rally during the convention, in which 250,000 protesters would participate. Bloomberg resisted their attempts to hold the rally in Central Park or anywhere near the Madison Square Garden convention site, instead offering the West Side Highway as a protest site. But protest leaders recently reneged on that agreement and are back badgering Bloomberg aides and the police to let them have Central Park as a rally site. Talks are continuing.

As charges and countercharges continued with administration officials and protest leaders, another problem arose—stalled negotiations with police, firefighter and teachers’ unions. As part of their bargaining strategy, cops and firefighters began shadowing Bloomberg, showing up at the mayor’s meetings with community groups around the boroughs. The officers’ rhetoric gradually got more abusive and disrespectful and soon they were threatening to strike during the convention, thereby imperilling security plans.

Most recently, police and firefighters made a late–night call on the mayor at his residence. The strike threat is not viewed seriously since Taylor Law anti-strike sanctions would be applied, subjecting the unions to fines of thousands of dollars.

Kelly has planned police schedules to eliminate days off and vacations and a 10,000-member force will be placed on overtime for the four days of the convention.

In addition, new anti-protest weapons will be used to meet any threats. These include high-definition cameras that photograph the undersides of trucks, through truck searches, a new Italian-made helicopter with a “night sun” floodlight and special saws that can quickly cut through protesters’ chains. A new long–range acoustic device, a 45-pound megaphone can be heard blocks away. It will be used for crowd control if need be.

“I think you’ll see that we’re prepared, that we’ve been planning for quite a while,” Kelly said, reassuring the public through the media.

Threats from all quarters are being taken seriously and are being prepared for. But one offshoot of the concerns raised is that the measures may curb the enthusiasm of delegates and their friends and families to get around town to see shows and other entertainment. Boston, where the Democratic Convention was held about a month ago, had similar tight security measures which inhibited delegates’ movements, and businessmen felt the pinch.

The mayor has said he doesn’t think it will happen here. That remains to be seen.

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