Channel 4: WNBC News

August 12, 2004

Mayor Says He Won't Be Embarrassed By GOP Convention Protests

NEW YORK -- The city will not be embarrassed if municipal workers seeking higher wages protest during the Republican National Convention or if anti-war demonstrators turn out in force, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday.

"The city is not going to be embarrassed," he said. "This is the most wonderful city in the world, and I don't know why anybody would ever suggest that. We have freedom of speech, and if the municipal work force wants to say something, they can say that. If people that are for or against the war want to express their views, they can do that. Quite the contrary, this is not embarrassing to us. This is what New York City is all about."

The four-day convention, during which President Bush is to be renominated, is scheduled to begin Aug. 30 at Madison Square Garden.

Anti-war demonstrators are planning a march past the Garden the day before the convention starts and are in a dispute with the city over whether they will get a permit to stage a rally of more than 250,000 people in Central Park. The permit request has been denied twice by the city.

Also, police and fire union officials have not ruled out a strike or sickouts during the convention. Police officers and firefighters have not had a contract in two and a half years, union bosses said.

"The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association is ruling out nothing," said Joseph Mancini, a spokesman for the police union. "Its members are so distraught by this situation that there's no telling what they might do."

Both unions have said they deserve larger pay raises than other city workers because of their heroism after the 2001 World Trade Center attack and the inherent risks of their work.

The city has offered unions, including police and fire, 3 percent pay raises and as much as 5 percent more for productivity enhancements such as changes to work schedules that could save money. The police and fire unions have denounced the productivity enhancements as "givebacks."

Bloomberg said Wednesday that he is unfazed by the possibility of demonstrations during the convention, though he assured the city that he trusts police officers will not stage strikes or sickouts, which are illegal for them and for firefighters.

"Anybody that thinks that there is pressure on the administration because the convention is coming just doesn't seem to understand what New York is all about," the Republican mayor said. "The only pressure that exists here is that I think it's in the interest of the municipal work force of this city to negotiate contracts so they can get the maximum raises that we can come up with between the limited dollars the city has and the options of using work force productivity savings to go and to give them more."

The mayor also said that the reason the city has denied protesters a permit for Central Park is not that they would trample the grass -- which the city has maintained for weeks -- but that the location would make it difficult for emergency workers to respond in case of an accident.

"The issue is you just can't put that kind of crowd together where you can't make sure that ambulances can get in," he said.