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New York Won’t Soon Forget Convention Week

July 18, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ It was a week when streets were cleaner, traffic was slower and haute cuisine was cheaper. There were plenty of cops and cabs, but not much demand for either.

Even this most jaded of cities won’t soon forget convention week.

Some predicted liberal, cantankerous New York would be disastrous for the Democrats - Dan Quayle called it ″returning to the scene of the crime″ - and that the convention would spotlight the city’s problems.

But many delegates left feeling good about the town, and the town felt good about itself.

″There have been a few times when I thought I was back home in the South because people were so kind,″ said Joyce Cutler, a delegate from Washington, N.C.

Two journalists emerged from Madison Square Garden early Wednesday, hours after the convention session ended, and found the street awash in two normally scarce commodities: cabs and cops.

″This is a New Yorker’s dream,″ one said.

But delegates did complain about some things. The traffic was ″scary,″ said Jim Brady of Alexandria, La. And the hot weather produced what Jeannette Clough of Venice, Calif., charitably called ″that nice, warm-garbage smell.″

Still, most things went according to the numbers, as 6,000 volunteers welcomed almost 5,000 delegates from as far as American Samoa and as near as Yonkers.

So what if Democratic National Committee staffers couldn’t get their traffic tickets fixed? So what if a convention visitor was mugged before the gavel came down?

Even that turned out relatively well. The victim, Ron Squires, 40, of Guilford, Vt., wasn’t seriously hurt, didn’t lose his money and saw the bright side: ″I was lucky it was only a punch in the nose. They could have had a gun or a knife.″

The Garden had the main event, and the streets outside had the sideshow, including topless go-go dancers riding on a flatbed truck to promote a strip bar.

But along with sin came the prospect of salvation: ″Portofess,″ a confessional mounted atop a large tricycle peddled by a man who called himself Father Anthony Joseph. There is no record of any such Roman Catholic priest, but no matter. He was quotable, and there were roughly 15,000 journalists in the neighborhood looking for a story, any story.

There were plenty of protests, but fears of 1968-style violence proved baseless. In the end it wasn’t longhaired demonstrators who stole the Democrats’ thunder, but a man in Dallas with a crew cut.

For visitors and residents alike there were the world’s largest open air fashion show in Central Park and the world’s largest outdoor musical in Times Square, not to mention lunch at some of the city’s most expensive restaurants for a mere $19.92.

There were so many free events it was hard to say if the convention would bring the city the anticipated economic payoff of almost $473.7 million. Lounge Lizard, the Daily News saloon columnist, noted most delegates avoided any place where they might have had to spend more than two bucks of their own.

They didn’t ride the subway - token clerks resorted to offering advice to any regular rider who seemed the least indecisive - and they didn’t take cabs, much to the dismay of the cab association.

Which misses the point, according to Betsey Rodgers, a consultant for the 34th Street Business Improvement District. ″Conventions have greater impact than short-term sales,″ she said. ″It’s a long-term selling job: that New York is a place to come back to and shop.″

While the city sold itself, sidewalk vendors tried to sell everything else, from fake Rolex watches made in Thailand for $2 and sold here for $25, to ″NO ONE FOR PRESIDENT″ buttons. There was a collectors’ run on ″Waiting for Perot″ buttons on Thursday, but prices held steady: $2 a button, three for $5.

By week’s end even the city that never sleeps was ready for 40 winks. As Bill Clinton might put it, New York was one gone dog.

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