RNC Workers Mock Republicans
PHILADELPHIA, August 3 -- Across from the First Union Center, the shiny new convention hall where Republicans will tonight nominate George W. Bush for the presidency, there is a sprawling city park.
Most of the delegates will never get near the park, however. The limousines and air-conditioned buses that whisk pols through the city wheel right past it. And the nearest city subway stop has been reconfigured to make sure that Republican convention goers don't get lost and end up in the park.
What about the trees and benches could possibly offend the men and women who are engaged in the serious work of inserting the term "compassionate conservative" into the American political lexicon? Nothing, of course. But the name is another matter.
That's because the patch of green adjoining the arena where George W. Bush will be designated as the 37th Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States is known as "FDR Park" -- as in Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States, longest serving chief executive in American history, Democrat.
"The irony of this convention is that the Republicans are meeting in a town where we name our parks after Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy," says Horace Small, a native Philadelphian who has been a community activist here for the better part of three decades. "That's because Philly's an old-fashioned Democratic town."
While polls of delegates inside the First Union Center rank Ronald Reagan as the 20th century's greatest president, the citizens of Philadelphia are much more inclined toward Roosevent -- the Depression-era Democrat who remains an iconic figure in the City of Brotherly Love.
"Roosevelt pretty much walked on water in this town," says Small, national director of Democratic Socialists of America, a fiesty progressive group that argues America could use another New Deal. "Hell, there are people here who'd vote for him today if they could. I suppose I'm one of them."
Philadelphia is a city steeped in history, a place where you can see the Liberty Bell and follow in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin. And Franklin Roosevelt's name is writ large on Philadelphia's record.
Philadelphians knew Roosevelt well. The patrician president who cast his lot with Depression-battered factory hands and shopkeepers was a political hero in the City of Brotherly Love. And old-timers recall it was here that, in the depths of the Great Depression, Democrats nominated the 32nd president for a second term. And it was on a hot July, 1936, night in Philadelphia that Roosevelt told Americans they had "a rendezvous with destiny."
Even today, on the streets of Philadelphia, Roosevelt is still a reference point. "There are a lot of reasons why we vote Democratic," Tim Whitaker, the editor of the Philadelphia Weekly newspaper explained to arriving Republicans. "Like the denizens of most industrial Northeast cities, we were born to it. We were taught that Franklin Delano Roosevelt worked to make things tolerable for the destitute."
The teaching took.
For all the courtesy being extended the GOP delegates by most Philadelphians, this city is still a Democratic town -- right down to its precinct captains. The latest voter registration figures show the city has 735,000 Democrats and just 191,500 declared Republicans. Democratic candidates for the presidency have swept Philadelphia for as long as anyone can remember, and locals like Ronald Wilson don't pause when asked which party nominee will prevail in the contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
"You kidding? Gore will win Philadelphia so easy George W. Bush won't know what hit him here," said Wilson, who edits a local Internet guide.
In Philadelphia, carrying a union card and a Democratic slate card is standard operating procedure. So much so that the electricians wiring the podium from which Bush will deliver his acceptence speech wore t-shirts that read "Republican... for a week."
Some locals have been more pointed in their challenge to the Grand Old Party presence in their town.
Left-leaning activists, who have greeted the Republicans with rallies, demonstrations and street clashes, have delighted in comparing Bush with the Republican president that Franklin Roosevelt deposed in 1932, Herbert Hoover -- indeed, the tent city for protesters against the Republicans has been dubbed "Bushville," a modern-day variation on the 1930s homeless camps that were called "Hoovervilles."
Philadelphia Weekly's convention edition featured a not-particularly attractive elephant and the headline: "Go Home!" And the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter plans a cookout tonight that they've dubbed a "Capitalist Pig Roast."
George W. Bush is not expected to attend.
Don't get the locals wrong. For the most part, Philadelphians of every political stripe are delighted that Republican delegates, alternates and hangers on are expected to pump an estimated $150 million into the local economy before the time the convention closes tonight. But even the most cordial convention greeters don't mind saying that the political picture will be back to normal Friday.
Remember the "Republican... for a week" t-shirts? Well, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, a Democrat who represents much of Philadelphia in Washington, sent regarding them to local elected officials, party leaders and union activists. "You're invited to our Friday, August 4, bonfire, where we dispose of those shirts."
This report was compiled from The Nation's Election 2000 Web site. Listen each day to live RadioNation coverage from the GOP convention in Philadelphia.