The advance men for CBS News found Dan Rather a six-bedroom English Tudor mansion with a heated pool, a cook, a gardener, a maid and nearby tennis courts. They rented it for the convention for $7,000. The advance men for NBC News were in a snit because Jane Pauley's contract calls for a hotel suite wherever the Today Show star stays and suites here were scarce. The pimps from Ohio, who do their own advance work, showed up two months early to line up their stars. The 1.900 Detroit police who will blanket the Republican National Convention here were given eight hours' indoctrination. They were told not to fret about the pimps and the hookers. They were told to fret about the expected 6,000 members of the media -- to politely endure reporters who'll confront them with self-important snorts and asinine questions.
It begins tomorrow at 11 a.m., the 32nd quadrennial presidential nominating convention of the Republican Party. By all indications, it will be a colossal snooze, a coronation for a 69-year-old former actor who once played opposite a chimpanzee in a movie called "Bedtime for Bonzo". Ronald Wilson Reagan has had the nomination sewed up since May. There is, of course, the matter of his vice-presidential running mate and perhaps some polite banter will emerge over the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. But these are secondary. The real business, the tricky business of the convention, will be the care and feeding of the media.
The media are finicky. The New York Times has rented five luxurious homes in the fashionable Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe for about $2,000 each for one week. Bright and early each morning during the convention, the men and women of the Times will be delivered fresh croissants from Josef's French Pastery shop of Grosse Pointe Woods.
The media are worried. The Associated Press has been assigned 35 double rooms in the Highlander Inn, a motel located in the unfashionable suburb called Highland Park. Police there say the motel is frequented by prostitutes and drug pushers. Muggers have been known to break into rooms there, bop a guest on the head and take his money, police say.
"I'm not anxious for anybody from AP to have their life endangered," says Jim Wilson, AP bureau chief in Detroit.
The media are jealous. The Cox newspaper chain, which owns 20 newspapers with a combined circulation of about 1.5 million, checked around with the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Washington Post to find that all these newspapers were getting better rooms, more press credentials and better seating in Joe Louis Arena, where the convention is being held. Helen McMaster, business manager for Cox, was outraged. She telephoned the appropriate Republican officials, screamed that Cox has more readers than the New York
Times and Washington Post put together (it's true, except on Sundays), and managed to get better treatment.
Since primaries have stolen the nominee-picking duty of political conventions, there's little left for the 1,994 delegates, 1,994 alternates and thousands of erstwhile party power brokers but hooha and bluster. If Republicans blow their noisemakers in Detroit and no one watches them on television or reads about them, does a convention really happen.
Besides giving the GOP a reason to bang its gavel, the media will bless the city of Detroit by spending a bundle. The three major television networks are expected to spend between $7 million and $10 million each. The networks, which regard even the most soporific convention as a test of corporate moxie, are each moving between 650 and 750 employes to Detroit and are building elaborate broadcast facilities which replicate in miniature their studios in New York. In May, they began constructing three-story-tall anchor booths in Joe Louis Arena; each will have enough wood to build three large houses. The major wire services -- Associated Press and United Press International -- are sending about 160 people and will each spend about $250,000. The Washington Post is sending 35 people and will spend about $60,000.
The monetary blessing will also be bestowed upon Detroit by the federal government, which is giving Republicans $4.6 million to spend on their convention. With hangers-on, corporate lobbyists and assorted hucksters, the total invasion of Detroit this week should amount to about 20,000 people. All told, the city expects that between $20 million and $50 million will be spent in the crowning of Ronald Reagan.
the city, which in 1967 suffered the worst urban riots in the nation and which in 1974 was dubbed "Murder Capital of the World" because of 700 homicides, wants to show all that it has undergone a renaissance. "The entire world will see that Detroit, which once was declared dead, is indeed alive and well," said Mayor Coleman Young, A democrat. He said he doesn't mind if the Republican Party helps this overwhelmingly Democratic city. "I can deal with Republicans as long as they are spending money and going home," the mayor has said.
It wasn't easy for Detroit to land the convention, despite its almost unsurpassed convention facilities in the cavernous Cobo Hall and Joe Louis Arena. The problem was that people around the country feared this 56-percent-black city and said it was ugly. Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan called it "a crummy city." Republican National Committeeman Kenneth Eikenbery of Washington State called it "a pesthole." And Republican Clarke Reed charitably said: "I'm the only white man for Mississippi who has ever been to Detroit. I don't want to be the only white man from Mississippi who has been to Detroit twice." But the grumbling stopped after the GOP site selection committee settled on Detroit. And even Reed, now in a body cast after a recent plane accident, is coming.
So Detroit is putting on the dog for this, its first political convention. The city's new slogan -- "Detroit Loves a Good Party" -- has been plastered on 40 billboards around town. Abandoned cars have been pulled off the streets, more than 10,000 trees and shrubs have been planted, about 30 rundown buildings have been razed, 410 red, yellow and green welcome signs have been screwed to light poles, and six hospitals have postpone electric surgery in case hordes of delegates, reporters or dignitaries need the knife.
Last night, to soften up the media and make them feel at home, the Civic Host Committee of Detroit threw what was billed as the largest press party in history. With a budget of $40,000 and expected crowds of up to 10,000, the press bash offered free food from 60 Detroit-area restaurants (steak tartare to barbecued ribs), jazz combos and mariachi bands, and free booze that broke down this way: 8,000 ounces of beer, 7,700 ounces of wine and 16,525 ounces of spirits. Tomorrow the media will nibble finger sandwiches supplied free of charge for the ninth straight convention as a good-will freebie of the Association of American Railroads. Hardly cheap, those media munchies will cost 86 cents each -- 11 cents more than the finger sandwiches in New York. (An expensive city, Detroit rivals New York in the strict enforcement of union rules.)
Before the delegates and alternates ever set foot in Detroit, they'll have received a "Welcome Kit" with 18 pieces of literature expounding on the wonders of the Motor City. On arrival each delegate will receive a "Welcome Bag" containing 27 separate items, including Cadillac medallions, "Having a Wonderful Time" post cards, pencil sharpeners, tape measures and tablets of both Dristan and Anacin.
"We are going to be so goddamn nice it will make you sick," explains Ron Steffens, president of the Metropolitan Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Detroit could not have picked a worse time to host the convention as far as its economy is concerned. One of four families in Detroit receives some sort of welfare. Black umemployment is about 25 percent; total unemployment is more than 15 percent and rising. More than one of every four auto workers who had jobs last summer is out of work. Mayor Young, trying to escape a financial crisis for the city, plans to lay off 103 policeman and 40 firemen. Police unions, their contracts with the city having expired June 30, have been threatening a strike.
In this gritty city that booms when cars are selling and suffers when they are not, residents have every right to be depressed, to look at the assemblage of well-heeled Republicans as ritzy nonsense that only makes them feel wretched and poor. But that hasn't happened. Instead, the convention has been embraced. More than 3,000 people have volunteered to help the Civic Host Committee make the GOP happy. More than 1,500 of them will sit in booths around the convention and in delegate hotels to provide information about the city. Nearly 3,000 others have offered to put people up in their homes.
The distance, however, between altruistic neighborliness and scheming to make a buck is not that great in Detroit. One year ago, Claudia Corbin, the wife of a Detroit high school teacher, was flipping through some old photographs of herself while pondering how to make a profit off the Republicans. She saw a photograph of herself in a red garter and halter top came up with a slogan: "Detroit is Hot for the GOP." She had 100 photographs printed and plans to sell them in the convention exhibit area for $25 each. But so far, she says, "The only people really interested in my picture is an X-rated bookstore, but I don't want to that way."
"If I were a prostitute and I wanted to make money," says Detroit Executive Deputy Police Chief James Bannon, "the last place I would go is a Republican Convention." Accordingly, Bannon says his 1,900 officers, who'll be policing the convention at a cost of $6 million for one week, will not worry about prostitutes very much. But this spring, in a bathroom in New York, Margo St. James, the former hooker who now heads COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), told a reporter from UPI that the Democrats, who are holding their convention in New York next month, are "too-cheap" and that many prostitutes will be heading out to Detroit. Police in Detroit who've interrogated pimps moving north from Ohio to look for girls wonder why Deputy Chief Bannon would not worry. GOP convention boss Bob Carter says, "I can't hide them any more than I can hide the unemployed in Detroit."
Besides, Carter has other problems, like finding rooms for the great, the near-great, the media and their distant relatives. The biggest logistical problem of the Detroit convention is housing. Under a deal worked out with most of the hotels and motels in the city, Carter and his staff decide who gets the best rooms. Those who want the close-in, first-rate rooms make it their business to know Bob Carter.
David Broder, political reporter for The Washington Post, is an old friend of Carter's. They ran into each other at a hockey game in Washington in January last year, and Broder asked for a room at the Ponchartrain, the hotel closest to the convention. Broder got the room. Columinist Joseph Kraft asked Republican National Chairman Bill Brock for a room at the Ponchartrain during a late winter cocktail party in Washington. He got the room. Lawrence Spivak, former moderator of "Meet the Press," took Carter out to lunch (just as he did four years ago to ask for a nice room in Kansas City) and he got the room.
"It's social," Carter says, referring to the clamor of media heavies and corporate shakers for rooms and suites in the best hotels. A shortage of hotels downtown required some suite-rationing by the GOP -- major newspapers got just one, each network has given seven. But if suite-rationing hit the big-time media, it has not troubled Ronald Reagan. He's been given the entire 69th floor of the Detroit Plaza for himself and his family, the 68th floor for his staff, and his home state California delegation (the largest state delegation) has 420 rooms in the Plaza. "He is, after all, our candidate," says Carter. George Bush, who is, after all, not the candidate, was orginally assigned 100 rooms at the Ponchartrain for his staff and his friends. But since Bush was beaten in the primaries, Carter says he'll take back all but about 30 of the rooms. Everyone knows the convention will culminate a wild, albeit well-planned, demonstration in support of candidate Regan. In those four days of anticipating the utterly predictable, perhaps the media will turn, as it so often does, upon itself and ponder what H.L. Mencken said of the political conventions he covered between 1904 and 1948:
"There is something about a national convention that makes it as fascinating as a revival or a hanging. It is vulgar, it is ugly, it is stupid, it is tedious, it's hard upon both the cerebral centers and the gluteus maximus, and yet is it somehow charming. One sits through long sessions wishing heartily that all the delegates were dead and in hell -- and then suddenly there comes a show so gaudy and hilarious, so melodramatic and obscene, so unimaginably exhilarating and preposterous that one lives a gorgeous year in a hour."
Unfortunately, Mencken did not live to see the day when primaries, not conventions, decide the candidate. Now even the man who runs the convention wonders about excitement. But Bob Carter is hopeful. "You can't get all these Republicans in one city and not have some excitement. What it's going to be, I don't know."