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Welcome the Protesters -- and Their Credit Cards

Mayor Bloomberg clearly went to great lengths to lure the Republican National Convention to New York City, and now he's busy making sure the convention-goers have a great time once they arrive, offering them special performances of Broadway shows, fancy parties sponsored by Wall Street firms, and more.

Mr. Bloomberg justifies the effort and expense he dedicated to the convention – at least in part – by saying that New York will reap major economic and public relations benefits by playing host to the Republicans. But what about the economic benefits that will accrue thanks to the one million protesters who are expected to visit New York City to demonstrate?

Even if you add the 15,000 journalists who will be swarming around the Republican convention to the 13,000 convention-goers – and, for good measure, you throw in 50,000 stray lobbyists and vendors selling talking Ann Coulter dolls – the protesters will outnumber and may well outspend the Republicans and their entourage.

Look at the numbers. Protest organizations are chartering buses and mobilizing people around the country to come to New York. If 500,000 out-of-staters visit for one night – a reasonable number in light of past demonstrations – they could easily drop a total of $150 million or more.

Wait a minute, you say, they are a ragtag bunch with no cash to pump into the local economy. Not so. Protesters increasingly fall into the aging boomer demographic. They have well-paying jobs, houses, 401(k)'s – and credit cards.

Even if half the protesters sleep on floors, that leaves more than 250,000 staying in area hotels where they will spend more than $50 million.

And how do you thank someone if you stay on their floor? You take them out to dinner after a day of all-American protesting. And before dinner, why not a Broadway (or Off Broadway) show or a visit to the Met or even a poetry slam? Or, as a thank-you, you might buy a gift for your host and for loved ones back home. And you might buy a thing or two for yourself. The protesters – poor and wealthy ones combined – could spend $100 million on this stuff and other incidentals. Despite their spending potential, what do the protesters get in the way of wooing? They can't even get a permit to congregate in Central Park and exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech because City Hall is worried about the lawns!

Last month, Mr. Bloomberg made a good start by issuing some permits to protest groups, but if he truly had the interests of New Yorkers in mind, he would immediately start a major marketing campaign, encouraging protesters from across America to demonstrate at the Republican convention. This campaign would emphasize that protesters welcome in New York – and that they'll have a good time and be kept safe. As a sign of his commitment, Mr. Bloomberg should ensure that the demonstrators be given access to a prime venue, like Central Park, for their big event.

If protesters were properly invited and assured of a safe place to protest, who knows how many would come? Two million? Three million? This could translate into a billion dollars or more for the city.

As a former businessman, the mayor should understand that cash-carrying people are cash-carrying people, even if they don't like President Bush. So, Mr. Bloomberg, roll out the red carpet to protesters.

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