- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2005

NEW YORK — The United Nations is not known as a place of few words, but the world body’s message to its host city can be summed up in one word: “Sorry.”

The organization has, for the first time, undertaken a media campaign to make amends to New Yorkers enduring the traffic jams, street closings, sold-out restaurants and elevated security threat that accompany world leaders wherever they go.

More than 170 presidents, prime ministers and princes are expected here Wednesday through Friday for what is expected to be the largest gathering of world leaders in history.

The agenda will span the world’s ills — poverty, conflict, terrorism, the erosion of human rights and the environment — but for most people who live or work in Midtown, it’s really about the gridlock.

A series of five short TV spots have begun airing on cable and local television stations, while ads such as “If we work to protect global human rights, will you forgive us for the traffic?” have sprouted on buses, subway cars, telephone kiosks and even the baggage-claim area at Newark Airport in suburban New Jersey.

“Before saying thank you, you need to say sorry,” U.N. Undersecretary-General for Public Information Shashi Tharoor told reporters last week.

New Yorkers can be pretty resilient, but even the toughest cabbies are tested by the two-week closure of a half-mile section of First Avenue, the brief and unscheduled shutdown of FDR Drive, and the security concerns that turn much of the real estate around Manhattan’s luxury hotels into a no-go zone.

There is the chilling sight of sharpshooters on the roof and bomb-sniffing dogs in the street. The blacked-out limousines traveling through Midtown with police escorts require rolling roadblocks and sometimes jam cell phones.

And if that’s not enough, there is not a hotel room to be had between Soho and Harlem.

The television spots feature ordinary New Yorkers played by actors who throw in their proverbial two cents from the podium of the General Assembly chambers.

Harry from Manhattan is aghast that half of the world’s people live on less than $2 a day, and asks world leaders played by U.N. staffers in national dress to fix that.

“But please avoid Second Avenue because that messes up my commute,” he adds.

The “everyone is a delegate” campaign was produced by McCann Erickson Worldwide and cost about $450,000 to produce, a fraction of what it’s worth because nearly everyone involved volunteered. The expense was shared by Ted Turner’s U.N. Foundation and the U.N. Department of Public Information.

Time Warner Cable is running the spots on 40 local channels, while the United Nations is paying discounted rates for slots on “The Daily Show” and “Good Morning America.”

The campaign does not address New Yorkers’ other big fear — that the U.N. compound could become the target for terrorism, affecting the whole city. Nor does it mention the estimated $3 billion a year foreign delegations pump into the local economy.

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