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THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Delegates Arrive in City Prepared for Best, Worst

Convention: Democrats converge on L.A. hotels as extra police guard a quiet downtown. Final touches put on Staples Center for Monday opening.

August 13, 2000|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Democrats, gathering forces for the presidential election struggle ahead, streamed into Los Angeles Saturday for their national convention and fanned out to sample the city, while police prepared for demonstrations and protesters made plans of their own.

Staples Center, the new sports arena turned into a convention hall, rumbled with the sound of power tools. At Los Angeles International Airport, hosts welcomed delegates with fortune cookies, all bearing the same message: "Your fortune begins in Los Angeles."

A smattering of small demonstrations kept police alert, but there were no injuries or damage to property.

Away from those hubs of activity, life in the city hummed along as usual, albeit under the watchful eyes of a noticeably larger number of law enforcement officers. Children played soccer in the morning heat at a park in Temple Beaudry. Mourners assembled at St. James Episcopal Church to protest gun violence. Diners grabbed their usual seats at Farmers Market in mid-Wilshire.

Downtown was largely vacant but for police. Protesters met to lay plans. Late in the day, the Police Department ordered officers to 12-hour shifts, putting hundreds of additional police on the city's streets--at a cost of $1.5 million a day.

Delegates streamed into town, arriving at Los Angeles International Airport in full regalia. Hotels in El Segundo, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Los Angeles and elsewhere filled with buoyant politicos, full of enthusiasm and optimism for the week. They were so thick at one hotel that mounted police units had to ask delegates to stop petting the horses.

"It's just too much for them," an officer said.

The week's main players, Vice President Al Gore and his chosen running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, were far away from the local stage Saturday. In Pennsylvania, a key state for both parties in the coming election, Gore highlighted his environmental record at a stop in Springdale, home of the late Rachel Carson, author of the landmark environmental book "Silent Spring."

"A long time ago," he said, "I committed myself to a new springtime filled with the sounds of wild birds, with the sounds of children learning about and appreciating the environment."

Gore will accept his party's nomination for the presidency on Thursday, the final night of a four-day event that Democrats hope will at least pull their candidate even in his race against Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

On Saturday, in the hall where Gore will make his acceptance speech, photographers set up their equipment and checked camera angles. As Secret Service agents guarded the podium, First Lady and New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton made a brief appearance; she is scheduled to speak Monday night.

Delegates Settle In

At LAX, which just got a minor face lift, arriving delegates were greeted by host committee volunteers and, at the United Airlines concourse, passed a banner that read: "L.A. Convention 2000 Welcomes the Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles, the Capital City of the 21st Century."

The delegates were easily distinguishable from other travelers, mainly by their buttons.

"Read My Lips," one read. "No New Texans."

"We are united as a party," Wisconsin delegate Tom Kitchen said as he walked through the United Airlines terminal. The parochial-school teacher from Fond du Lac said he hopes the party emerges from the convention with "a good bounce [in the polls] and ready to do battle in the fall . . . We need an uplift here to take on the Republicans."

In Hollywood, about 100 members of the Oklahoma delegation checked in and melted into the eclectic flow of Hollywood Boulevard.

There and across Southern California, delegate after delegate arrived bearing lists of things to do and see.

"I want to see Santa Monica. This is a working trip, but it's a vacation trip, too," said Melanie Miller, a delegate from Clinton, Md.

Miller, a sales manager for a beverage distribution company, said she plans to stick around after the convention for a few days: "I want to try some of the bike trails around here and rent some roller skates. What I really want to do is go to the 'Price is Right' show, but I can't fit that in."

Girding for Protest

Outside Staples Center, downtown Los Angeles was occupied by scores of police officers, mostly from the LAPD but supplemented with a visible contingent of the California Highway Patrol. The jewelry district, normally a bustling place on a Saturday morning, was all but vacant, as many owners passed up the chance to make a bundle off visiting delegates for fear of what might occur if protests got out of hand.

There were no serious incidents Saturday, but police were leaving nothing to chance. Parker Center, home of the LAPD, was ringed with concrete barricades. Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, local clergy, civil rights leaders and the head of the city's human relations commission delivered a rare, joint address via videotape to the LAPD's officers.

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