We knew months ago that it would be interesting and fun to write about the Democratic National Convention. After all, the event will be held in Boston, just a hop, skip, and a jump from our editorial office. More important, it is the first political convention since 9/11. We wanted to give readers an inside look at planning an event of this magnitude, and we decided to turn to the city's convention committee, Boston 2004, for that perspective. (The Democratic National Convention Committee delegates the planning of everything outside the actual convention hall to the city's host committee.) We were lucky to have access to Julie Burns, the executive director of Boston 2004. What we didn't know months ago was just what a planning challenge this particular convention would be for Burns and her team.
Cities vie to host political conventions and the winner foots the bill for the event. In this case, Boston 2004 has agreed to raise nearly $50 million to pay for convention activities. (See cover story, page 18.) But unsettled city labormay result in picket lines during the Boston convention, and significantly higher costs for the event. Those two hurdles may be small potatoes compared with others.
Just a week before we went to press, the Federal and state officials announced the details of how city transportation would be affected during the convention. The security precautions were worse than anyone had expected — including 40 miles of roadway closures. Local newspapers were filled with citizen outrage. Some felt they had been sold a bill of goods on the convention, which may not have the anticipated economic impact since some businesses will clearly lose revenue due to transportation closures and lost productivity if workers can't get to work.
But the icing on the cake, so to speak, came a few days later when the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, suggested that he may delay accepting the nomination until weeks after the convention, in hopes of leveling the campaign spending field with President Bush. (Federal election rules say once a candidate is nominated, public spending limitations apply — creating an advantage for Bush since the Republican convention is five weeks later.)
Imagine finding out 18 months into planning a major national event (and fundraising like mad for it) that the reason for the event and all the hoopla may no longer exist. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is not a happy camper as I write this, and I doubt that Julie Burns is. This may be the one thing the elaborate contingency planning for the event failed to anticipate — despite it not being totally unpredictable.
By the time you read this, the Kerry campaign may have found a way around this double bind. Whatever the outcome, I've come away from this cover story with a new respect for convention planners, who have to drive a convention to success no matter what the circumstances — but who often aren't in the driver's seat.