Convention dramas percolate for both parties

Published July 7, 2004 2:35PM (EDT)

It looks like Boston Mayor Thomas Menino might have to contend with even more labor unrest during the Democratic National Convention later this month. The 1,200-member strong bus drivers and monitors union in Boston is threatening to picket the convention, forcing delegates and other Democratic officials -- maybe even John Kerry himself -- to choose between entering the Fleet Center and crossing a picket line. The Boston Globe reports: "The nearly 1,200 bus drivers and monitors lack the political clout of the 1,400-member Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, which dropped its threats to picket at the FleetCenter last week, and it is unclear how many drivers would turn out for picket lines. But labor demonstrations at the convention arena could present a difficult choice for convention delegates and Senator John F. Kerry, who last week honored the police union's picket line at the US Conference of Mayors meeting in Boston. 'I don't cross picket lines,' Kerry told reporters at the time.

"Now, the unions representing the bus drivers and monitors are calling on Kerry and delegates to do the same at the convention later this month. 'We appreciated John Kerry's position that he wouldn't cross a picket line,' said Steven Gillis, president of the bus drivers' union, which has gone a year working without a contract. 'Hopefully, local and national Democrats will do the same.'"

But Boston's union troubles may have already dealt major damage to the Kerry campaign. The Boston Herald reports that the spat between Kerry and Menino resulting from the presumed Democratic nominee skipping the US Conference of Mayors gathering may cost Kerry crucial votes in New Hampshire. Following a petulant interview with the Herald, the mayor is threatening to not send campaign aides to New Hampshire to campaign for Kerry around the November election. The mayor's office and the national Democratic organization are also exchanging jabs about the large -- and unanticipated -- extra costs of this year's convention.

Meanwhile, activists eager to protest during the Republican National Convention in New York are incensed at the city's refusal to allow rallies in Central Park. From today's New York Times: "The battle over the right to stage protests in Central Park during the Republican National Convention racheted up a notch yesterday, as civil libertarians accused the city of favoring high culture over political expression and the parks commissioner countered that some events were just not horticulturally correct.

"Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Christopher Dunn, its associate legal director, complained in a letter to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that the city appeared to be closing Central Park to political rallies, even beyond the end of the convention. The letter says that at a meeting with city officials on June 18, lawyers from the Civil Liberties Union, representing a group seeking to hold a 50,000-person rally on the Great Lawn, were told that both the Great Lawn and the North Meadow were now off limits to political rallies because of concerns over potential damage to the grass."

The fate of Penn Station during the Republican convention also has commuters worried. With scaled up security, closed terminals and inevitable delays, railroad officials are predicting jammed exits or worse, and even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists that, "If you don't live or work in the Garment District you won't even know that there's a convention in town," everyone else seems skeptical. From a recent New York Times article: "'If I was working in Midtown Manhattan, and I had to pick my vacation, I'd take off,' was how Joseph Morris put it, and he ought to know. Mr. Morris recently retired as police superintendent for the Port Authority and is working as a consultant for security at the convention." The city is also expecting 500,000 to one million protesters to show up, which will probably keep the rest of the city well aware that there is, in fact, a convention in town.

By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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