Keep Off the Grass


Demonstrations are supposed to be seen and heard, but based on the city’s thus far hostile response to rallies planned for the Republican convention, that’s going to be a challenge.

A year ago this June, organizers made a straightforward request for permits for a march and rally on the Sunday before the convention opens in late August. Marchers would assemble on blocks south of 23rd Street on the West Side, parade due north on Eighth Avenue past the Madison Square Garden convention site, curve around Columbus Circle, up Central Park West, and onto the Great Lawn for a vast rally.

So far the city has thwarted the plan at both ends. The police department, saying it needs more time, has left the route in limbo. The parks department has denied the rally permit, insisting that the lawn can only hold a crowd of 80,000, well below the estimated 250,000 people expected by United for Peace and Justice, the event’s coordinating group. Never mind that the website for the New York Philharmonic boasts that more than 135,000 music lovers assembled on blankets for evening concerts held on the lawn on each of the past three summers. Or that rallies and concerts in prior years have drawn more than double the 250,000 figure.

Last Friday, as increasingly horrific photos from the Abu Ghraib prison stoked growing anti-war sentiment, Mayor Bloomberg summed up his position this way: “You’d ruin the lawn,” he said.

“It’s great that Central Park is Manhattan’s crown jewel,” responded march spokesman Bill Dobbs. “But it’s also a most important public space and the only option for a mass rally in Manhattan; it shouldn’t be turned into a grass museum.”

Yet city efforts to contain and control the enormous rallies expected here convention week could well backfire. By the time the George Bush-Dick Cheney-Tom DeLay crowd arrives en masse in late summer, opposition to the administration is likely to have built up a huge head of steam in need of venting. And if the streets around the Garden are cordoned off—as now seems likely—pressure will grow to find other suitable sites within earshot of GOP power brokers and their corporate supporters.

There will be ample opportunity. In the great convention tradition, there will be hundreds of events, large and small, where the 50,000 convention visitors will be entertained outside the Garden. So far, other than much publicized affairs like the massive “Salute to Broadway” to be held the Sunday before the convention starts, GOP planners are being understandably mum about where and when enclaves of delegates and their pals will be held. A spokeswoman for the convention planning committee refused to discuss the subject except to say that a “decision has yet to be made” about whether to disclose such events to the public.

Similarly tight-lipped is the city’s official host committee for the event. “We are certainly involved in arranging events,” said committee spokesman Paul Elliott. “As we finalize plans we will make announcements.”

But according to a tentative list of convention-week events obtained by the Voice, planning is well along and locations and corporate sponsors have been identified for many of them. The idea, apparently, is to keep them hush-hush, and away from the hoi polloi.

We tried to reach locales and corporations identified as sponsors, but most, like GOP officials, didn’t want to talk about it. “We do not disclose details on specific events,” said a spokesman for pharmaceuticals giant Novartis, which is scheduled to host a Thursday night bash. But for those eager for a glimpse of Bush-backers, here is a small portion of their possible itinerary:

Monday, August 30:

8:30 a.m.: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with Libby Pataki, Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue and 57th Street

4 p.m.: “Big Tent Event” at Bryant Park Grill (Republican Unity Coalition)

10 p.m. to 1 a.m.: Post-convention party for NY/NJ delegations, Cipriani’s 42nd Street

Tuesday, August 31:

9:30 a.m.: Finance roundtable, Tavern on the Green (Bank of America)

3 p.m.: Luncheon at the St. Regis hotel, Fifth Avenue and 55th Street (AstraZeneca)

4:30 to 7:30 p.m.: New York delegation, Tavern on the Green (Kodak)

10 p.m. to 1 a.m.: Post-convention party, Noche, Broadway and West 49th Street (American Gas Association)

Wednesday, September 1:

1 p.m.: Luncheon honoring House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s wife, Jean, Central Park Boathouse (Burlington Northern Santa Fe)

4:30 to 7 p.m.: Bryant Park Grill, 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue

10 p.m.: Crobar, 530 West 28th Street (American Gas Association)

10 p.m. to 2 a.m.—”Hispanic Event” Copacabana, 560 West 34th Street (Coca-Cola)

Thursday, September 2:

5 to 7 p.m.: New York delegation at Madame Tussaud’s, West 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue

10 p.m. to 2 a.m.: Post-convention party, Water Club, 500 East 30th Street (Novartis)