Just as everyone had settled into a pattern of disgruntled speculation as to whether the decision to host the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston's 19,600-seat FleetCenter was sound (why not the new $800-million convention center?), or whether the security plans would result in traffic and commuter snarls, talk emerged on May 21 that presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry might delay accepting the presidential nomination until September. And that resulted in snarls of a different variety.
Granted, Kerry's delayed acceptance would have redressed a situation where the campaign would have been limited to using $75 million in public money for the 13 weeks prior to election. (In contrast, President Bush, accepting the Republican nomination in September, need only make his $75 million last for five weeks.) Its ramifications for the convention, however, were immediate and far-reaching: Would an announced delay cause some of the expected 38,000 visitors to stay home? Would it hinder the fundraising and planning efforts of the Boston 2004 Host Committee, which had been charged with coordinating nearly 1,000 convention-related activities? And would such a diminished event merit TV coverage?
The uproar died down on May 26 when Kerry formally declared that "Boston is the place where I want the journey to the Democratic nomination to be completed . . . With great pride, I will accept my party's nomination for President in the city of Boston." He then thanked Mayor Tom Menino and all of Massachusetts, which, said Kerry, are "working hard to build a world-class stage, in a world-class city, to launch our campaign."
Misunderstandings aside, the city returned to logistical issues. The plan devised to secure the venue required the closure of nearly 40 miles of roads (including I-93) as well as the North Station commuter rail hub and nearby parking lots—all of which would affect more than 200,000 commuters. But suggestions to move the convention to the spanking-new Boston Convention & Exhibition Centre were brushed aside. Says Lina Garcia, press secretary, 2004 Democratic National Convention, "One of the reasons that we chose Boston was because FleetCenter is the perfect venue to hold an event like this magnitude." Mayor Menino, who spearheaded the original plan, cited that moving to the new center would result in nearly $9 million in cancellation fees, in addition to what it cost to construct stadium seating; lastly, he said the new center (which will host a party for 15,000 media) would be a security risk, as it is under the flight pattern of Logan International Airport.
With the event weeks away, Boston is now focused on having a Democratic party. "It's such a huge undertaking with lots of key players," says Garcia, "but our CEO, Rod O'Connor, is leading the effort. We're in full gear, planning the look and feel of the convention." Housing, which uses Passkey, "is at least three months ahead of 2000's," says Garcia; and according to Boston 2004, there are nearly 14,000 volunteers lined up—6,000 more than required. There will be receptions at 30 venues for the 56 delegations. Drinking in the atmosphere at the Samuel Adams Brewery, however, will be cultural phenomenon Jerry Springer—who is one of the Ohio delegates. Surely, the last-minute circus was a situation that the self-styled "ringmaster" could appreciate.