- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

NEW YORK — Republicans found things to grumble about — and, in some cases, reasons to skip coming here at all — from security fears and hassles to the high cost of taking a bite out of the Big Apple.

Members of a party publicly devoted to limited government and individual freedom aren’t too pleased with Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s citywide ban on smoking in nightclubs and restaurants.

“How can you have a convention without a smoke-filled room?” said Tim Morgan, a cigar-fancying California delegate to this week’s Republican National Convention. Mr. Morgan got into town last week and managed to see five Broadway shows before the convention’s start today.

“I don’t like smoking bans. I’m a guy who believes in freedom,” said Charlie Gerow, a cigar-smoker and delegate from Harrisburg, Pa. “Doesn’t every civilized person enjoy cognac with a good cigar after dinner? I miss that here.”

A major tobacco company was one of the sponsors of a pre-convention party at a Manhattan nightclub that throbbed with delegates and members of Congress dancing and drinking — but not smoking. That, they had to do outside the club, on the street.

Although most convention delegates say they love this city, others — especially those from small towns and rural areas — gripe about the Big Apple’s big prices for nearly everything.

And some delegates didn’t even show up after they heard about protesters’ threats to tie up the city, the extra-heavy security and the possibility of terrorist attacks.

An Iowa Republican attending the convention said a number of delegates, especially alternates, decided against coming to New York.

“It wasn’t terrorism so much,” the delegate confided. “It was the cost factor and all the talk about protesters. ‘I don’t need to deal with this,’ is what they were saying.”

Arizona delegate Michael T. Hellon said although he was “not aware of anybody who didn’t come because of terrorism, there has been unusual attrition among delegates originally selected.”

“We had nine delegates who expressed concerns about security and decided not to come,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett. “It was a combination of a fear about protesters tying things up and a fear of terrorists.”

Ohio is sending 92 delegates and 89 alternates.

Delegates who have been to as many as six Republican conventions say they have never seen one so closely controlled by the White House as this one. Mr. Bennett acknowledged that the Ohio Republican Party worked closely with the Bush political team to select delegates.

As for high prices in Manhattan, Mr. Bennett said, “It’s always a real stretch financially for some delegates at every convention, but hotel rooms for us here were made very reasonable.”

The Republicans’ Committee on Arrangements, headed by New Jersey delegate and lawyer David Norcross, negotiated reduced hotel rates for convention attendees, delegates said.

Georgia delegate Carolyn Meadows, a member of the national party’s site-selection committee that chose New York for this year’s convention, said she heard a lot of talk about high costs of attending the convention and of protesters making it hard to get around.

“There was snarling about it, and part of it came from Georgia delegates,” she said.

Mr. Hellon said delegates from Arizona and “a number of states suddenly said they can’t make it, but I think if any place in the world that can handle this problem, New York is probably the best.”

He said $20 hamburgers were causing more grumbling than 20-minute lines to get through security checks.

“One of delegates this morning complained about $189 [a night] for a hotel room,” Mr. Hellon said, but volunteered that he doesn’t understand such complaints. “Gee, that’s a pretty good rate for New York — or almost anywhere else. It’s some of the rural people complaining.”

“But you can’t have any kind of edible lunch for under 20 bucks,” Mr. Hellon said.

“I know some people in our delegation struggled financially to get here,” said Mr. Gerow of the Pennsylvania delegation. “They had to scrape and save, but they considered it an honor.”

The Pennsylvanians, along with Florida and Texas delegates, are paying $225 a night for their rooms at the New York Hilton, where Ronald Reagan once announced his presidential bid.

“That’s a pretty … decent price for New York,” he said. “Meals are a little more pricey than they are in Harrisburg, but the dining is better too, though don’t tell my friends back in Harrisburg I said that.”

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