The Big (Guarded, Secure, Fortress-Like) Apple
Even before arriving in New York last week there were signs of what might have been the most heightened security effort for any event ever staged in America.
Trains approaching the Big Apple as far south as Wilmington, Delaware, were searched by armed patrols, which sought to ensure that all baggage was matched up with a traveler, among other things.
Convention attendees were greeted at New York's Penn Station, situated underneath the convention site's Madison Square Garden, by thousands of uniformed police, many of them armed, and only two of the more than 20 exits/entrances from the commuter station were open.
Officials said they brought in 10,000 additional policemen to supplement the city's 37,000-person force for the event. The security detail was billed as the most extensive of any ever assembled for an event in the U.S., maybe anywhere. The only rival may be the just-completed Olympic Games in Athens.
Once you exited the station the site was even more fortress-like, with thousands of policemen and plain-clothes security personnel surrounding the convention site. Many of them were armed with automatic weapons. Vehicles going in and out of the site were searched with bomb-sniffing dogs. Visitors into the Garden had to empty their pockets as they went through metal detectors. Some of us were actually body-searched.
The site, which is normally a bustling center of commerce, was cordoned off from the public, with traffic rerouted for several blocks surrounding Madison Square Garden. Virtually removing the site from any non-convention activity for the week.
The purpose was obvious on the eve of the third anniversary of September 11; that was to deter another act of terrorism in a city where President Bush and his cabinet member would be present throughout the week.
But another motive for the heightened security was obviously the numerous protests planned for the week. Every day protesters either marched on the convention site, sometimes clashing with police during protests for issues ranging from the war in Iraq to abortion rights to gay rights to efforts to combat poverty. However,the increased security last week appeared to have frustrated any plans to disrupt the convention.
The choice of this year's convention, the first GOP convention ever held in New York, was an unusual one, though the symbolism was obvious with its proximity to the World Trade Center site. That's because New York City is one of the most liberal locales in the country. Though a Republican has managed to be elected mayor the past three elections, only one-in-five New York City voters is a registered Republican. The city has voted overwhelmingly for the Democrat candidate for president for the last five elections.
As a result, the Convention had the strange feel of detachment from the rest of New York. Convention-goers, many of whom hailed from small towns in the Midwest, easily stood out.
The convention was not much different than the one last month in Boston, where the Democrats gathered for their convention. The convention site there was also carefully segregated by security personnel. Both conventions were also carefully scripted, with dissidence and disagreements hidden from the public to show a unified party preparing for the elections.
But the one major difference was that in Boston, most of the conventioneers matched the political mood of the locale, Democratic Boston being one of the most liberal areas of the country. So the attendees to the Democratic Convention did not appear to be at odds with the city, as they did last week at the Republican Convention.