New York Bites Back

The ultra-Democratic city makes Republican conventioneers feel less than welcome

Election 2004 -- The Republican Convention

August 30, 2004|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - Ronalee Linsenmann didn't even mind when, after asking what came with her corned-beef sandwich, the waiter at the Carnegie Deli groused, "bread." But there was one thing the Republican activist from Idaho could have done without at the landmark deli in this famously liberal city.

"They seated us under a wall of pictures and we were right by the ... Clinton ... bunch ... of ... pictures," she said, slowing down and making a face as though chewing gristle. Her friend, Shari Dodge, like Linsenmann part of the Idaho delegation, said a photo of GOP honcho Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been far more appetizing.

But New York City, where five out of six registered voters are Democrats, isn't changing its decor to suit the Republican guests. While protesters filled the city streets yesterday, many everyday New Yorkers are objecting without mass demonstrations - instead snarling to each other about the GOP-fueled traffic, security and ideology that will be imposed on them this week.

Visitors like Linsenmann suspect that's the case, and they're prepared. She's going without all the red, white and blue she'd normally wear for this occasion; yesterday she wore only a small American flag pin on her lapel.

"We're just trying to play it down," she said, "so nobody throws rotten tomatoes at us."

New Yorkers are, indeed, voicing their dissent this week - though most without tomatoes.

"I want to show the Republicans this is the city of Democrats," said Dolores O'Keefe, 41, a cosmetics executive from Queens who wants to argue politics with the Republicans, though she expects her debate partners will remain out of sight at Madison Square Garden. "I don't think they're invading; it's like they're afraid to be here."

In a city that considers itself quite smooth when it comes to things famous and powerful, some are treating the convention much the same way they'd handle a George Clooney sighting: with studied indifference.

"New Yorkers are basically very respectful of other people's privacy," said Gary Thalheimer, 74, an Upper East Side resident who was tasting a slice of German head cheese at Zabar's on a weekend grocery run. "The Republicans can walk down the street without getting accosted. I'm tempted to say New Yorkers have better things to do."

But New Yorkers were paying attention over the weekend.

A Manhattan psychiatrist was heard telling a friend the conventioneers were "counter-phobic" to walk into Democratic territory (her translation: they were confronting the very thing that scared them). Two Democratic National Committee workers ate lunch and pondered how many more donations they'd get from angry New Yorkers once the convention started. On Fifth Avenue, a woman walked down the sidewalk in a T-shirt that read: "Get these worms out of my apple."

Some folks are trying to welcome President Bush and the GOP. A midtown Hooters posted a sign that read: "Unofficial Convention Headquarters." But with so many New Yorkers avoiding the convention madness by taking vacation this week, the Hooters waitresses spent most of the weekend hanging around in their orange hotpants with nothing to do.

With much of the city empty, for reaction from city dwellers, it was best to call the Hamptons.

"This week's going to be a lot busier than usual," said Chris Arancio, manager of The Laundry, an East Hampton eatery popular among New Yorkers who flee the city for Long Island's beaches during the summer. Arancio said the restaurant normally serves about 150 people a weeknight, but this week should bring in 250 to 300 each night. "I get the sense," he said, "New Yorkers just don't want to stand around with a bunch of cops watching them."

Many New York politicians, like New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, are staying in town; former President Bill Clinton stumped for Democratic nominee John Kerry at Manhattan's Riverside Church yesterday.

Politicians like former mayor Ed Koch have urged city dwellers to "make nice" with the 50,000 people in town for the convention, but a New York Times/CBS poll shows that 52 percent of New Yorkers wish the GOP had chosen another city.

Many New Yorkers are making their displeasure known in subtly subversive ways.

"Someone took my Bush stickers off my suitcase," said Cathy Graham, 32, a convention volunteer walking near the convention hall in elephant earrings. The Capitol Hill staffer suspected a New Yorker probably did it, but she wasn't giving it much thought.

"I could care less about New York - it's the Republican convention I'm here for," said Graham, adding that the week's highlights would include a private concert by country music singer Travis Tritt. New Yorkers, she said, "aren't going to spoil my fun. I'll pretty much be in a bubble of Republicans anyway."

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