THE EYES OF THE WORLD turn to Boston this month as the Democratic National Convention unfolds in the city's FleetCenter. It's a big moment for the nation, for Boston, and for Julie Burns, executive director of Boston 2004 Inc., the nonprofit, nonpartisan agency organizing Boston's convention preparations.
The 35-year-old Burns, who was Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino's deputy chief of staff before becoming the city's key convention planner, oversees community outreach and hospitality, coordinating city services, recruiting and training 13,000 volunteers, and raising nearly $50 million to pay for convention-related activities. With a paid staff of 20, she is responsible for pretty much everything that happens during the convention, except for the programming inside the convention hall — the domain of the Democratic National Convention Committee.
While fund-raising challenges dog the convention, no issue is more paramount than security. In late May, the Secret Service and the Boston Police Department dropped a figurative bombshell on the city: Officials detailed the transportation lockdown needed during the four days of the convention.
The measures include closure of some 40 miles of roads as well as one of the tunnels to and from Logan International Airport. That same day, Burns' office launched a public awareness campaign — “Let's Work Around It” — to help people figure out their travel options.
“Security is in the forefront of everything we do, every decision,” she says. When asked to elaborate, Burns says, “I just can't comment.” She can't discuss contingency planning except to say that her team has been working with the Secret Service and the Boston Police Department for more than two years.
What Burns can talk about are the parties that the city will throw that week, and how they are designed to highlight Boston's history, diversity, and cultural richness. The 56 delegations will be put into 30 groups (small delegations will be combined), each of which will be feted at a welcome party in a venue that is “not a ballroom or function hall,” she says. “We really want to showcase the city.”
The Democratic National Convention Committee assigned state delegations to individual hotels, which will serve as their base of operations. The Boston 2004 team chose the party venues and then bid out the party-planning services to area contractors (except for venues with in-house catering). Burns says her team tried to pick a party venue for each state delegation that was relatively near the hotel for that delegation. For example, the California delegation is at the Marriott Long Wharf, and its welcome party will be just down the street at the New England Aquarium. The biggest single event is the party for 15,000 media people at the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Burns' team will also oversee a shuttle system, with 150 buses running 12 hours a day, transporting 10,000 riders among 60 hotels and the FleetCenter.
What will her days be like during the convention? Burns says that all depends on what is needed. “But I can speak to what happened in Chicago [where she served at the 1996 DNC]. We each had our assignments for the day. We'd meet back at headquarters at 1 or 2 in the morning for a debriefing and to get our marching orders for the next day. Then we'd be up at 5 to start all over again.”