Applause! Applause! Philadelphians Wow Gop And Themselves.

Posted: August 06, 2000

Host the Democrats' big party in 2004? Bring 'em on.

Philadelphia now knows that it can handle a national political convention, and do it with style, pop and aplomb.

It just did.

Read that over if necessary, longtime Inquirer readers and residents of the region. Or try the short version: Welcome to Can-do City.

Unless you were a protester festering in a holding cell at the Police Administration Building, that has to be your verdict on the Republican National Convention, which last week ushered 45,000 visitors into the region.

Even by midweek, the favorable verdicts were being issued on the city's hosting of the Bush political love-fest.

GOP delegates raved about the welcome they received. A hefty sampling of their reactions by local reporters found near-universal approval. Ditto the thumbs-up given by visiting journalists, who pumped out a stream of some 1,200 stories about the city, both before and during the convention.

"I would come back in a heartbeat," Republican National Committee chair Jim Nicholson said Wednesday. "Philadelphia has done everything they said they would do."

Cape Cod lawyer and delegate Ric Barros, over breakfast Friday in the Reading Terminal Market, said, "Philadelphia is going to get a lot of capital out of this."

As David L. Cohen, co-chairman of the Philadelphia 2000 host committee, said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and . . . we've made a spectacular first impression."

Much-deserved praise was showered on convention organizers, Mayor Street's team, and Police Commissioner John F. Timoney. The latter, appearing in biking togs, not riot gear, pedaled his way to national icon status as a genial yet firm master of the streets.

Sally Field would conclude they love us, they really do. But the importance of the week's events might not be so much what others think. Rather, it's that Philadelphians can raise their own expectations now. After all, it was the locals who had the big fears of a world-class flop. (Understandably, given that they live in a town that firebombed a neighborhood and hosted the 1976 gathering that gave Legionnaire's disease its name.)

Instead, this time Murphy's Law was waived for the week. That's pretty amazing stuff for a city that stumbled into a police-beating scandal within weeks of the Police Department's greatest crowd-control test (which it passed).

There's no way to put a value on the simple affirmations and revelations of the week: out-of-towners saluting the mundane joy of munching a cheesesteak at a polished-steel counter in South Philly . . . delegates standing in awe of Independence Hall . . . the respect and restraint shown disparate groups of protesters, short of tolerating violence.

What was made to look easy wasn't easy to pull off, nor inexpensive. The clockwork running of events resulted from years of work by a team led by Philadelphia 2000 dynamo Karen Buchholz. And it grew out of former Mayor Edward G. Rendell's gutsy move to pitch a national convention, hoping to cap two decades of efforts to establish Philadelphia as a destination city.

The gathering was a $52 million-plus exercise with nearly three-quarters of the cost covered by city, state and federal funds. Policy wonks may note the irony that it's the GOP, those fans of limited government, who accepted twice the public aid taken by Democrats for their Aug. 14 Los Angeles convention. Then again, the higher pricetag may have been Philadelphia's premium for getting back into the game after 50 years.

Back in the game, yes . . . and doesn't it feel good to win for a change?

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