The just-completed Republican National Convention represented yet another step in the ongoing revival of New York City since 9/11, one that is perhaps even more significant than anything that has happened in Lower Manhattan up to this point.
While the media spent the convention wondering what Republicans were doing in a Democratic city and dwelling incessantly on the potential security threats and disruptions, the convention actually came off just as smoothly as one could have hoped given the enormous logistical problems, the security threats and the presence of tens of thousands of protesters.
That was precisely what the Bloomberg administration hoped when it reached out to both the Republican and Democratic parties after 9/11, asking each to bring its convention to New York as a show of support. More than just seeking dollars and cents, the city wanted the major parties to reaffirm that the city was open for business again. The Republicans decided to come mainly for that reason, while the Democrats demurred, saying they would only come if they could have the city to themselves.
Since the GOP made that commitment to the city in January 2003, the rest of America, and even the world, has indeed affirmed that New York is open for business. The city’s tourism industry had largely recovered from 9/11 by the summer of 2003, far more quickly than anyone could have imagined, preserving the jobs of tens of thousands of hospitality workers whose future seemed in doubt right after 9/11.
But the successful running of the GOP convention added one more thing: a reminder that this city is not just a place for the casual tourist, but that it is at its best welcoming big events, that few cities in America can host so many people, show them a good time and do it so civilly and efficiently as New York can.
Indeed, simultaneous with the convention, the city also was hosting another event that anywhere else would be glad to have—the U.S. Open tennis championships. It’s doubtful any other city could have handled two major events like this without a meltdown of city services.
There are many places to spread around the credit: the Bloomberg administration, which won the convention in the first place and then mustered the city’s resources effectively to welcome it; the city’s business community, which raised record amounts to support the effort, and the members of the host committee themselves—Republicans and Democrats alike who worked for two years on the effort.
And most of all, credit belongs to the New York Police Department, which once again showed why it is the nation’s best. Despite the presence of tens of thousands of protesters, many of them hell-bent on more than just peaceful protests, the NYPD kept a lid on things and kept the city functioning smoothly, even though officers had to work long hours under difficult conditions. Compared to what was anticipated in the media, the city was practically serene for most of the week, and the coolheaded men and women of the NYPD deserve the city’s thanks for that.
The convention does not represent the end of the city’s long road back. New York faces major questions and doubts about the future of Lower Manhattan, even though a rebuilding plan is now in place.
New York must also grapple with its own self-destructive tendencies. The city still spends way too much money and faces a budget that is perpetually teetering on disaster. While Gotham showed again last week that it is a welcoming place, it is also too expensive to visit and do business for many, and the city must reduce the costs that its government imposes on its citizens, businesses and visitors or it will never break out of its long cycle of boom and then bust again.
But despite these challenges, the GOP convention was like an exclamation point at the close of a long first sentence that the city started writing on the day after the terrorist attacks. The convention was not the end, or even the beginning of the end, of the tale of the city’s revival. But to echo Winston Churchill, last week was, finally, the end of the beginning of the story.