This city can be noisy, chaotic and memorably uncivil. But the District's Republican delegates say the national convention is also an opportunity they hardly ever get: to spend a week hanging out with more than 4,800 other members of their party.
Washington is a political wilderness for Republicans, where they are outnumbered by Democratic voters 10 to 1. The convention in New York is a chance to come in from the cold.
"It feels like home," said delegate Jerod Tolson, 32, a small-business owner from Northeast Washington who is running a long-odds campaign against D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7).
"It's a great time to be ourselves," said Christine Brooks, a GOP delegate who works for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
And yet, even in the warm embrace of the national party, D.C. Republicans can find themselves on the margins. Brooks favors abortion rights, for example. Tolson opposes the Bush administration's push against same-sex marriage, as does D.C. Council member David Catania (R), who was bounced from the delegation for resolving not to vote for President Bush this year.
"Most of us are more moderate," Brooks said. "The conservatives accept us, but most of us are not conservative."
The local party is virtually invisible to many national GOP leaders. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a powerhouse for the conservative movement, lives in the District but confessed he did not know who chaired the D.C. party (businesswoman Betsy Werronen).
With no voting representation in Congress, the 19-member delegation is not a high-value target for lobbyists. Other delegations spend convention week making the rounds of tony receptions for top Republican officeholders, corporate-funded meals and other events in glamorous New York settings. Take Tuesday's charity auction of self-portraits by Virginia's congressional delegation at Sotheby's, paid for by the parent company of Dominion Virginia Power.
The District's convention calendar has been considerably less cluttered. D.C. delegate and yachtsman Anthony Parker invited his colleagues to a luncheon Wednesday at the New York Yacht Club, of which he is a member. Delegates threw their own continental breakfast at the Algonquin Hotel on Monday, where the featured speaker was Williams. He came through again Tuesday, headlining a reception at the Harvard Club funded by Clear Channel Adshel, a maker of street furniture.
The mayor delivered a pep talk of sorts. "I know it's difficult for you against such demographic odds in terms of voter registration, but you're fighting the good fight," said Williams, who attended the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia. He added, "I think it's particularly important that [as] a city with a predominantly African American population, that we be respected and recognized by both parties."
Snacking on smoked salmon hors d'oeuvres and banana-on-cucumber canapes, Brooks talked about life as a D.C. Republican.
"Most of my friends are Democrats," said Brooks, a former D.C. human services administrator whom Williams named to a patronage post as head of the Office of Boards and Commissions. "A lot of them don't know I'm a Republican."
She got to know Williams by chance in 1993, she said, when she let the Clinton transition team know she was willing to provide temporary housing to incoming officials. The man who would be mayor came to her door and stayed while he got his start as chief financial officer for the Department of Agriculture.
Asked why she is a Republican, Brooks cited her belief in free enterprise, opportunity, economic development and her father. A North Carolina farmer with a grade-school education who put all nine children through college, he voted down-the-line Democrat, Brooks said. But he hoped, "maybe one day will come when one of my children will be comfortable to vote in the other parties," Brooks said. Now three of them do.
D.C. Republicans said they hope to find more acceptance at home, someday. "One thing I find in the District is that people look at us with blinders on. They've got a perception of the Republican Party being noninclusive. They think there's no place in the party for them, and that's not true," Tolson said.
"There are Republicans in the District," said Michael A. Monroe, 25, a restaurant marketing director who is running against seven-term Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). "I have gone door-to-door, and people say that every single party has come by their home except the Republicans. They say, 'It's so nice to see you.' They just haven't been talked to yet."