By Maurice Pinzon
Less than 12 hours after President George W. Bush delivered his acceptance speech, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proclaimed the Republican National Convention a major success for the City.
Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg in reviewing the week’s events cited a number of benefits to the City in hosting the Republican National Convention. Most immediately the mayor reported a $255 million economic infusion for New York City, although he cautioned the figures were still preliminary. The mayor also cited intangible benefits. “We received free advertising that reached potential tourists across the nation and around the world,” he said. The mayor said surveys indicated delegates were so satisfied with their stay that they would recommend the City to others.
Mayor Bloomberg described the convention as a sort of coming out party. It showed the world that New York was back, three years after the attacks of 9/11. And even with that memory, New York was safe and still an exciting tourist destination. In addition, the mayor said the City had proved it is able to hold a huge and complex event without a major incident.
Mayor Bloomberg was so positive in his remarks on Friday that he almost took credit for the protests. The mayor said, “This has also been a very good week for free expression, due process, and democracy.” Mayor Bloomberg said his administration had “rolled out the red carpet for political activists.” His evidence: the discount buttons given to 25,000 protestors. The mayor added, “We couldn’t produce them fast enough.”
Mayor Bloomberg suggested the discount buttons had generated good behavior. “The vast majority of protestors said their piece, peacefully,” Mayor Bloomberg said. And as for the “relatively few people who used this event as an excuse to break the law,” he said they had been “arrested quickly, processed as expeditiously as possible, and treated humanely.”
However, protest organizers and those arrested might disagree.
Just a half hour before the mayor spoke, members of New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) held their own assessment of the week’s events. NYCLU’s executive director, Donna Lieberman said, “The pre-emptive arrests, preventive detentions and dangerous conditions at Pier 57, and massive surveillance of lawful protest activity, undermined the right to dissent.” Pier 57 was the temporary holding location set up by the City for those arrested during demonstrators.
Ms. Lieberman contrasted the permitted demonstrations, where she said, “The police generally did a fine job” to the more spontaneous protests. Ms. Lieberman said with the latter, there were too many instances of “preventive arrests”, with innocent people being caught up in the “new Spiderman net techniques.” Ms. Lieberman was referring to the orange netting used by the Police Department to encircle protestors.
Ms. Lieberman also questioned the City mishandled booking process at pier 57, especially since the City had a year to plan. “They told us they were ready to process 1,000 people a day,” she said.
But Ms. Lieberman appeared to focus her most vigorous criticism on Mayor Bloomberg. “We’re quite disappointed with the mayor’s posture this week,” she said. And Lieberman went further, criticizing Mayor Bloomberg for taking “a page out of the book of George Bush and John Ashcroft. ” She added, “The mayor has a lot of learning to do about the first amendment. ”
In reply to a question from a reporter on the use of the orange netting, Mayor Bloomberg said, “They [the police] certainly don’t use these indiscriminately.”
Overall, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who also attended the mayor’s news conference, attributed success to large numbers of police, rapid mobility, new technologies and the experience of the New York Police Department.
Nevertheless, with almost 1,000 arrests on Tuesday, the City was not able to process people quickly enough. Earlier in the week New York Criminal Court Judge John Cataldo ordered the City to release those detained at Pier 57 who were being held for more than 24 hours without being charged. This is the legal limit.
But Mayor Bloomberg denied there was any strategy to delay the processing of people. The mayor said there had been an unexpected surge in arrests because anarchists had sent messages through the internet to disrupt the City.
If Mayor Bloomberg was troubled by any criticism, he did not show it. The mayor said, “The convention was a major test of New York’s post 9/11 security and I’m proud to say, by any standard, we passed this one with flying colors.”