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Delegates Prepare for Long Commutes

July 4, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ For Linda Stoval, a 40-mile trek across Wyoming’s wide open space qualifies as a quick jaunt. The 10-mile commute she’ll make twice a day in August may be another story.

Stoval is among hundreds of delegates to the Democratic National Convention assigned to hotels up to 20 miles away from Staples Center, the downtown site where Al Gore will receive the Democratic nomination next month. To get there, many will have to crisscross the tangled, sprawling lattice of freeways that link Los Angeles and are widely known to some for their traffic-snarling high-speed chases.

``In Wyoming we’re used to going forever. Forty miles isn’t a long way in Wyoming,″ Stoval said. But with the convention site, ``We’re told you need to be allowing an hour and a half to get down there.″

The length of the commute is apparently not by chance, either. The accommodations of most delegates will follow the rule: the less powerful, the more distant.

Wyoming and other small states not known for their Democratic political power brokers find themselves the farthest away. Delegates from Indiana, Pennsylvania and Colorado _ home to current and former Democratic National Committee leaders _ will stay just blocks from Staples Center.

Tennessee, the home state of Gore, will be ensconced in an upscale hotel a few minutes drive from the site and, in a gesture to politics, blocks from numerous other delegations.

Proximity means they’ll miss commutes through the nation’s second-largest city that take them through Marina del Rey and Pasadena. Or less familiar locales: Culver City, Koreatown and Echo Park.

``Driving sometimes in a sprawling freeway system in a big city can be intimidating,″ said Ed Scannell, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. ``We’re unique simply from the standpoint of how spread out we are. We’re unique in the distances it takes to travel.″

Scannell’s department will provide tokens and passes for its rail and bus systems at some delegate hotels and install a special phone information line for delegates.

Organizers, meanwhile, plan to start running shuttles 90 minutes before the opening gavel of 5 p.m. in hopes of getting everyone through security _ to be conducted as delegates board the buses _ and to the site on time. The 200 shuttles will run for an hour after the closing gavel.

Delegates, however, will have to figure out on their own how to get to morning breakfasts, evening receptions or sightseeing expeditions.

Convention organizers insist that state delegations generally were assigned to one of six hotels they listed as their top choices and that some delegations actually wanted more remote locations so as to put them closer to beaches or other California attractions.

The Wyoming delegation, in fact, is excited about its assignment near the Universal Studios theme park and Universal Citywalk, a tourist attraction known for its restaurants and glitzy shops, Stoval said.

Texas state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, didn’t know until a reporter called him that his delegation would be located at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. At 20 miles each way, the delegation from Texas, George W. Bush’s home state, has one of the longest commutes of all.

``I’m not a stickler for being a senator and being escorted here and yon. I’ve got a thumb and a couple of dollars in my pocket for a taxi. My bottom line is for Al Gore to be elected president,″ he said.

For the record, the Texas delegation got one of its top six choices, said Luis Vizcaino, spokesman for the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Organizers downplay suggestions that politics guided assignments, but even one of Gore’s own campaign chairs in Texas said he believes party officials took it into consideration.

``I’ll guarantee you Indiana and Pennsylvania got good hotels. If we would elect a (Democratic National Committee) chairman, we’d have a good hotel, too,″ said Gary Mauro, former Texas land commissioner and the Democrat who lost to Bush for governor in 1998.

Some states were more concerned with getting rooms at union hotels than they were with location. Out of the nearly 18,000 rooms booked, one-third are in union hotels, Vizcaino said.

Long commutes are also in store for Republican delegates _ as many as 25 miles and across state lines _ although Philadelphia has nowhere near Los Angeles’ traffic.

Politics seemingly play a role there, too. The Vermont delegation, which is both small and backed Bush’s former foe, U.S. Sen. John McCain, will stay in Wilmington, Del.

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