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Mary McGrory

Democrats in the Hub

By Mary McGrory
Sunday, November 17, 2002; Page B07

My old hometown was chosen to host the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and already the cracks have begun.

We're used to it in Boston. My beautiful old city is always slandered by Republicans, who resent the state's notorious preference for Democratic presidents. Massachusetts is a Democratic state by registration, although you can't always tell: It's about to get its third Republican governor in a row, and the new one, despite a heavy concentration of Irish Catholics in the state's politics, is a Mormon from Utah.

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But this circumstance does not save us from disparagement for being effete, elite and hopelessly out of touch. Remember Jim Baker, the right hand of George I, with his poisoned arrow for "The People's Republic of Massachusetts"?

When asked about the donkeys' choice of Boston, retiring House Republican leader Dick Armey of Texas replied in the snide tradition: "If I were a Democrat, I suspect I would feel a heck of a lot more comfortable in Boston than, say, in America -- I'm sorry -- Dallas."

Bostonians take such slurs in stride and put them down to the jealousy of people who don't have swan boats, the Public Garden, the Old North Church, Harvard, MIT, Mrs. Jack Gardner's Palace, all the lobster they can eat and the Ritz-Carlton dining room, where scrod is always on the menu. Poor them.

We think they also resent our reputation for brilliant ideas, beginning with the Revolution and going through the invention of public schools, the abolitionist movement, Vietnam War resistance and -- oh, yes -- the nation's first high-tech corridor, along Route 128. As I say, who could blame them?

Our closest competition for the convention was New York, the hero-city of the world, which has set the standards for courage and class. It saved the country during 9/11 and it deserves anything it wants. But it can't have everything. Manhattan, in a typical show of its famed assertiveness, requested both conventions. But Democratic Chairman Terry McAuliffe told them to put the money where their mouth was, and they couldn't do it.

Boston's mayor, Tom Menino, had big bucks from businessowners who share his dream of the first national convention in the Hub. In 2000, at the Los Angeles convention, he gave out "Boston in 2004" baseball caps. Ted Kennedy was with him every step of the way.

Last July the mayor put on a smashing weekend for the site selection committee: a dinner in a tent on the sacred grass of the Public Garden. It was catered by Boston's premier chefs, and guests could see swan boats gliding about, their benches occupied by happy volunteers wearing colonial costumes. He took them to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game, to a clambake picnic on the Charles River and to Filene's Basement, where several selectors bought suits.

Boston need feel no guilt. If the Republicans have their wits about them -- as they certainly did in the campaign -- they will immediately seize Manhattan and plan an extravaganza at Ground Zero, with a supporting cast of thousands of firefighters and police officers and Rudy Giuliani as their keynoter. The setting would speak for the president.

Boston is right for the Dems. At a time when they have lost sight of what it's all about, they will benefit from being where it all began. They do not have a candidate, it is true, or a philosophy. They are outgunned and outfunded. But so were the colonists who started the Revolution with their fiery speeches in Faneuil Hall, which is not too far from the Convention Hall. The Old North Church, in all its spare splendor, still stands, the pewter candelabra made by Paul Revere still shedding light. Just next door, you can buy cannolis in Boston's Little Italy.

New York has a lot, but it doesn't have a Bulfinch building like the Old State House, which still stands in the heart of the financial district and has unicorns on fields of light blue. And who has a Gardner Museum, my father's favorite, a pink palace built on Venetian lines with a courtyard filled with flowers that change with the seasons. The palace, the creation of a fabled Boston aesthete, Isabella Stewart Gardner, suffered a robbery in 1990, and 13 of its greatest treasures, including a Rembrandt and a Vermeer, were cut out of their frames. In the Boston way, the curator has left the empty frames hanging. It's an expression of pain -- and hope.

It's also a pretty good metaphor for the Democratic Party at the moment. It is suffering acutely, and about the most it can wish for is death with dignity -- or maybe defeat with honor. Sen. John F. Kerry could enjoy a home-court advantage, but with GOP governors in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, site of the first primary, could that amount to much?

The only real winner in prospect is Boston, which will again be the Hub of the Universe for four days in 2004.


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