The US Presidential Elections: NY throws biggest party of the year

UP AND down Manhattan, the welcome mat is being laid out. Hoteliers are doubling their prices, muggers are sharpening their skills and demonstrators are plotting ambush tactics, as the city braces for the National Democratic Convention, the biggest and noisiest party of the year.

To ease the fears of the anxious delegates, many of whom have never been to New York before, a team of 700 volunteers will be renting out bulletproof vests at dollars 10 ( pounds 5.20) a day. With the National Guard on alert and ready to use light tanks and helicopters if disturbances get out of hand, and thousands of police patrolling Manhattan to keep demonstrators and criminals at bay, the authorities are doing everything to ensure that all goes smoothly.

In Washington Heights, a poor neighbourhood on the upper tip of Manhattan island and a part of the city that most residents only ever see on television, riot police will be keeping a careful watch to ensure that the violence which erupted this week does not occur again. Around five people are murdered in New York every night, but such incidents as the fatal stabbing of a tourist in a subway last year do great damage to the city's image. The authorities are keeping their fingers crossed that the 35,000 exuberant conventioneers will stay away from dangerous parts of the city.

The other concern is that protesters will try to wreck the convention. Homosexual groups such as Queer Nation and Act-Up are determined to bring the Aids issue to the forefront, while the anti- abortion activists of Operation Rescue are planning protests to publicise their cause. David Dinkins, the Mayor, has told Operation Rescue that its members will be locked up if they block the entrances to abortion clinics. 'New York is a pro-choice city,' he said.

Most delegates expect to spend more than dollars 1,000 each during the week. Besides going to Madison Square Garden to nominate Bill Clinton as their presidential candidate, the visitors will be whooping it up in 'Gotham' at parties, expensive restaurants and clubs.

New York wants to demonstrate that it isn't half as bad as the news reports suggest and that after years of inexorable decline it is springing back to life. Parks are blooming with newly planted flowers, prostitutes have been chased off the streets and the homeless who live winter and summer under the Madison Square Garden sports arena have been herded away to shelters and cheap hotels.

The image New York hopes to project next week is one of energy and excitement with just a hint of danger for out-of-towners who do not adapt to the streetwise ways of native New Yorkers. In a tongue- in-cheek guide to the city for delegates, New York magazine advises visitors not to speak English out loud because they will stick out as tourists. 'Get that look of polite affability and benign expectation off your face,' it counsels delegates wandering the streets.

A few months ago many New Yorkers doubted the wisdom of hosting the convention. The city seemed mired in a financial morass as it lost thousands of well- paid jobs on Wall Street. Drug- based crime was ruining neighbourhoods and tension between blacks, whites and Hispanics threatened to shatter Mr Dinkins' image of New York as a 'gorgeous mosaic' of different people.

Suddenly, however, there is a perception that the city is past the worst. Many of the big businesses that threatened to move out of the city have changed their plans, and expensive flats are changing hands at an unprecedented rate as people move up the property ladder. Broadway is thriving again after years of decline and the city is spending dollars 47bn to repair its crumbling bridges.

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