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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

Bloomberg Walks a Fine Line as Host

New York's mayor must welcome GOP without alienating Democratic voters.

August 30, 2004|Matea Gold and Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has a lot to keep tabs on this week -- clogged Manhattan avenues, terrorist alerts, a slew of Republican dignitaries and hundreds of thousands of protesters.

But even as he plays host to the national GOP convention, an event he sought aggressively, New York's Republican mayor also will be attuned to another group, one that is key to his political future: the city's overwhelmingly Democratic population.

"George Bush is despised by New Yorkers," said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. "Mike Bloomberg needs to be perceived as a George Bush Republican as much as I need a second head."

And so Bloomberg, who faces reelection next year, is trying to hold firmly onto his moderate credentials in the midst of the four-day GOP extravaganza.

The mayor is attending just a few events this week, trying to steer clear of the more polarizing conservative rallies. On Sunday, he drew whoops and cheers at a "Big Tent" reception hosted by the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian group. In his seven-minute talk, Bloomberg made clear that he sides with some of the less powerful members of a party dominated by social conservatives.

"I am a believer that what makes America and New York great is its inclusiveness and its willingness to let everybody be who they are," he said. "And I will always stand for that, regardless of whether it happens to be politically correct or not."

On Tuesday night, the mayor will be the headliner at a party sponsored by the Republican Majority for Choice, a group that supports abortion rights.

Bloomberg is scheduled to welcome the delegates in an address to the convention this morning. But a spokesman said he did not know whether the mayor would be on stage Thursday night after President Bush accepts his party's nomination.

"The mayor is going to use this opportunity to show what sort of Republican he is," said Edward Skyler, Bloomberg's press secretary. "His message is that it's a big tent. There's room in any political party for a variety of views."

Bloomberg is definitely not in lock step with the national Republican Party. A former Democrat who switched parties just before he ran for mayor, he supports abortion rights and gay rights, as well as gun control.

But he has staked a lot on the convention. After wooing both parties to come to New York, the mayor has promised that the GOP hoopla will be a monetary bonanza for the city, citing estimates of more than $250 million in convention-related spending on hotels, dining, parties and other events.

To that end, he has cast the GOP celebration in economic, rather than partisan, terms, even offering hotel and restaurant discounts to "peaceful" protesters.

"It's free advertising for New York," Skyler said. "We hope to present the image of New York as a safe, fun place to come and visit. It's a great chance to show the world how far we've come since Sept. 11 in rebuilding and getting our economy back on track."

For the mayor, whose approval rating has recently climbed back up to 50% after a city budget crisis that forced deep cuts and large tax hikes, a successful convention could mean more than just money -- it could be a boost before his 2005 reelection campaign.

"It is important that it goes well, that there not be terrorist activity, that there not be violence with protests and that the delegates have a good time," said Kenneth T. Jackson, who teaches New York history at Columbia University.

The convention planning has been rocky at times. Last winter, Bloomberg clashed with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who proposed housing party VIPs on a cruise ship docked in New York Harbor. The mayor said the plan would siphon money from the city's hotels and restaurants, and DeLay eventually dropped the idea.

More recently, the mayor uninvited an Ohio congressman to a GOP fundraiser at his home in June after the congressman voted against providing almost $450 million in anti-terrorism funding for New York.

Meanwhile, as the city geared up for the convention, it was buffeted by new warnings of possible terrorist attacks. But some analysts say one of the mayor's biggest challenges this week may be keeping the appropriate distance from his guests.

"He's in a bit of a bind," said Joe DePlasco, a New York public relations consultant. "He's got to be a gracious host, but he needs to somehow stand above the Republican convention and acknowledge that there are issues that New Yorkers care about that Republicans may not be presenting."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Today's speakers

ED GILLESPIE

Chairman, Republican National Committee

MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG

Mayor of New York

MARC RACICOT

Former Montana governor

Bush-Cheney campaign chairman

REP. J. DENNIS HASTERT Permanent convention chairman, 2004 Republican National Convention

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN

Chairman, National Republican Senatorial Committee

RON SILVER

Actor

REP. HEATHER WILSON

ZAINAB AL-SUWAIJ

Executive director, American Islamic Congress

SEN. LINDSEY O. GRAHAM

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN

RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI

Former mayor of New York

Source: Associated Press

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