Party poopers


There were complaints in the press and on various gossip blogs that Republican delegates are a bunch of dull party-poopers -- we didn't stay out late and we didn't attend parties. Here's an item from Friday's Page Six column in the New York Post:

September 3, 2004 -- THE Republican delegates seem to have run out of gas when it comes to parties. An Independence Bank bash at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden was canceled at the last minute yesterday for lack of attendance. "You can't do a party there for less than 125 people at approximately $125 a head. I'm told that 200 to 300 conventioneers were originally expected," said our source. RNC parties at the Bronx Zoo, Snug Harbor on Staten Island, and in Queens were also under-attended. "The only party that was packed today was the governor's event at the Fulton Ferry Pier in Brooklyn, right in front of the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory," we're told. Not only the outer boroughs are being shunned. Gov. Pataki invited 800 GOP backers Monday night to Tupelo Grill, right across from Madison Square Garden, to eat, drink and get merry while watching Rudy Giuliani's speech. "Only 50 people showed up," said our informant. "But the gov didn't exactly lose his appetite. Instead of savoring the mini-quiche made especially for the occasion, he demanded a cheeseburger with all the fixings."

And this bit from Cindy Adams in the same paper:

CONVENTIONS run from 7 to 10 p.m. Theoretically. Because BS flows like Niagara, they last through 11 p.m. Result? The after-parties, like for Rudy, Arnold, the Bushes, the gov, all begin at midnight. Everyone's exhausted and hungry. Restaurants lose money, since this kills the dinner hour. The original 7-to-10 p.m. concept was for prime-time newscasts. There's no longer nightly network coverage because no longer are folks glued to the screens unless they're TV repairmen. These rah-rah conventions no longer even have a raison d'etre because all's decided beforehand so I asked "Law & Order" actor/Sen. Fred Thompson why not change that 7-to-10-p.m. deal? And he wisely replied:

"I have no idea."

Cindy's a bit off on the timing -- the convention was planned to end at about 11:00 pm EDT every night. That was not an accident. The aim was to get the main speakers -- Giuliani on Monday, the First Lady on Tuesday, Cheney on Wednesday, and the President on Thursday -- going right at 10:00 pm EDT. That would maximize live viewing across the country -- 7 o'clock on the West Coast, and toward the end of prime time everywhere else. This was typically the only hour carried by the major networks. The President was the only one to go beyond 11, and that just barely, followed by another 15 minutes or so of the balloon drop.

But what worked well for the networks didn't work well for the delegates. After the session it was far easier to get on our buses, rather than wander out into the city beyond the barriers. Monday afternoon at the end of the first session was the one time I tried to walk directly out, and I got stuck trying to cross 34th Street at 7th Avenue, as the police were giving priority to the convention buses -- I finally backtracked and walked around to 8th Avenue.

Particularly from Tuesday night on, with protests near the convention site, we faced the choice of riding on buses with police escorts and traffic priority returning us straight to the hotel, or leaving the secured area on foot and walking into the middle of a police-protester confrontation that might keep us from going anywhere for a while. The easy choice was to take the bus and leave from the hotel if we wanted to go out.

Scheduling and security worked together to dampen attendance at outside events, whether during the day or late at night. The evening sessions gobbled up a six-hour block of time from the time we left the hotel until we returned -- all of which was spent within the security perimeter or on the bus. Once you were inside the Garden, the thought of passing through security again was a strong disincentive to dropping in on another event. For the same reason, delegates tended to avoid MSG during the day -- you showed up as late as possible while still arriving in time for the speakers you wanted to hear.

As for parties, we were invited to some afternoon and early evening events -- all but one of them specifically for the Oklahoma delegation, and that other invite came from our congressman. There were rumors of some great after-parties -- John McCain hosted a "Wednesday Night Live" party headlined by SNL star Darrell Hammond -- but no one I knew was invited. The master schedule we were given at the start of the week had long lists of events, most of them labeled "private". I started to go through the whole schedule and mark interesting possibilities, but so many were marked private that I dropped the idea. We might have been daring and shown up to crash a party, but we were too worn out and hungry to waste time and energy showing up at an event only to be turned away.

That's the general, here are the specifics. Let me take you through my week and I think you'll understand.

Sunday was almost entirely planned out from 11 am until 8 pm. A Williams Companies reception for the Oklahoma delegation on the Upper East Side, "42nd Street" at the Ford Center at 3:30, then a Kerr-McGee reception honoring Don Nickles atop the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. (As it happened, we were assigned a timeslot for attending the Williams reception, rather than being allowed to drop in at any time during the reception. We were given the 11:00 - 11:45 shift, which would have interfered with church, so instead we had a delicious diner brunch with Dawn Eden, who gave us a tour of some highlights at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Having been well-fed at the Mandarin Oriental, and with an early morning in front of us, no one was in a mood to go out again. If there were any other parties or events that evening, no one had told us about them. I went for a late-night walk -- feeling some frustration over the technical difficulties I was experiencing.

Monday there was a 7 am delegation breakfast, and we were to be on the buses at 8:30 am in order to be in place for the 10 am gavel opening the Convention. Mikki skipped the session and went shopping for some comfortable black sandals. The opening session went past 2 pm, but I bailed out a bit early, after the platform and rules had been approved, making a pass through Radio Row and by Bloggers Corner to say hello to a few folks. Monday evening at 5:30 was the Wildcatters Ball, another event for the Oklahoma delegation, this time honoring Sen. Jim Inhofe, and featuring music by Jerry Jeff Walker. Mikki and I showed up late, because we had gone to the National Review event at Turtle Bay. The delegation was told they'd need to be on the bus at 6:30 to get through security into MSG before the 7:45 gavel; Mikki and I stuck around longer and enjoyed the views from the 64th floor of 30 Rock, particularly from the quieter reception area at the west end of the building.

The convention ended roughly on schedule at about 11:15 Monday night, and it took a while to get out of the building, to the bus staging area, and on the buses and back to the hotel. Some people found their way to the hotel bar, others called it a night, a few wandered off in search of food elsewhere. If there were any interesting after-parties going on, no one told us about them.

Tuesday was another delegation breakfast, this one featuring Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, and the "Compassion Across America" event, which I punted only to spend most of the day trying to get my phone problems resolved. Mikki didn't return until nearly 3, and then I had to be on the bus at 4:30 to be at the New Yorker Hotel at 5:20 for our official delegation photo. We were also told we needed to be in place for the 7 pm gavel, since we would be one of the first states called in that night's segment of the "rolling roll call". The convention let out about 11, and the protests in Herald Square, delayed our departure. By the time we got back to the hotel, some of our fellow delegates decided they were more tired than hungry, but the timing worked out for us to meet up with Dawn, who led us to an excellent meal at O'Lunney's Times Square Pub, where we found ourselves next to a group of Kansas delegates.

We went back to O'Lunney's Wednesday night with some other Oklahomans and found that the place had been discovered by a lot of other delegates. Why? It was about the only place around offering something besides peanuts to eat -- the kitchen is open until 3 am. Plenty of bars were still open, but their kitchens closed at midnight. In our part of the City That Never Sleeps, things were pretty dead, although Cielo, the combination deli, convenience store, and Mongolian barbecue next to the Roosevelt Hotel, is open 24 hours.

But we were talking about parties. Wednesday afternoon we decided to miss the MetLife / Summit party for the Oklahoma delegation, held atop the MetLife (Pan Am) Building, in order to attend a reception for the congressional Republican sophomore class. Tulsa Congressman John Sullivan was one of the hosts and was kind enough to invite us personally. The food was great food, with a well-stocked open bar. The band (which was not called "Kirk and the Jerks", but something close to that) was decent but of course too loud for conversation. (So much for networking.)

We had arrived 30 minutes late, but not fashionably late enough, as there were only a handful of others on hand at that hour. More people drifted in later, but it never came close to filling up, and I wonder whether the sponsors consider it a success. The event was at The Water Club, on the East River at about 35th Street. It was a difficult place to find, even for the cabbie, sandwiched as it was between the East River and FDR Drive. It was far enough off the beaten path that you couldn't easily make an appearance here and at another event. A location closer to one of the convention hotels would not have been as picturesque but probably would have made it easier for more people to attend. I'm sure the events in the outer boroughs had the same problem.

All of these events were at no cost to us. There were some fundraisers happening, but we didn't get invitations and didn't go to any.

Thursday we had the surprise opportunity to take a tour on a hybrid bus and see the new Alexander Hamilton exhibit, which I've written about. We spent our dwindling free time that afternoon at the GOP marketplace, hunting for buttons and other souvenirs. We got pizza at Two Boots in Grand Central Station and picked up a piece of Junior's Cheesecake for later. With the President's speech and the closing celebration, we got back to the hotel after midnight, hung out in the bar with our fellow Okies, then went to the room at about 2 am to start packing.

So my advice for better party attendance four years from now: Make it easier for delegates to figure out which events they are welcome to attend, broaden the invite list, rather than invite the same few hundred VIPs to everything, and hold events as close as possible to where the delegates are going to be.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 4, 2004 11:39 PM.

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