Grand Old Party

John McCaslin
|
Posted: Mar 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Both houses of Congress, or so it is ordered by resolution, are to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of the Republican Party.

And, no, that inaugural GOP meeting did not take place on Capitol Hill. Would you believe Ripon, Wis.?

On March 20, 1854, 50 men, three women and a child assembled in a simple frame schoolhouse, now known as the Little White Schoolhouse, to advocate the creation of a new political party under the name "Republican."

Today, the Little White Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designated by the Interior Department a National Historic Landmark on May 30, 1974. Ripon city officials say the schoolhouse, now a museum, attracts visitors from around the world.

GOP PARTY PLANNING

For the first time in its history, the Republican National Committee has selected New York City to host its presidential convention. And while there will be little political suspense in the Madison Square Garden air - what with an incumbent presidential nominee - New York is promising quite the show.

Upwards of 50,000 people, including 4,853 delegates and alternates and 15,000 reporters and pundits, have RSVP'd for the 2004 Republican National Convention Aug. 30-Sept. 2. And nobody is more pleased with the reservations than New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had empaneled a "dream team" of top city Republicans to lobby the RNC for the convention.

The mayor expects the late-summer political powwow to generate more than $150 million for New York City, and to make sure everything proceeds smoothly - taxi service to trash pickup - he has reached agreements with the city's labor unions to sign "no strike" agreements for convention week.

On top of that, Bloomberg has secured more than 22,000 hotel rooms from 50 hotels - 17,000 of the rooms within one mile of Madison Square Garden. Bloomberg is promising almost half of those rooms will be available to convention-goers at an average rate of $156 per night - cheap by New York standards.

DEMOCRATS HEAD TO BOSTON

Democrats will descend on Boston for the 2004 Democratic National Convention starting July 26. It won't be a dainty tea party.

The Republicans may have the glitter of Manhattan, but leave it to Don Mischer and Ricky Kirshner to create an extravagant affair this summer at Boston's Fleet Center.

Mischer, tapped by the Democratic National Committee to be executive producer of the convention, produced and directed such memorable celebrations as the opening and closing ceremonies for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor splash on occasion of the city's reunification with China in 1997, the 100th anniversary of Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C.

"I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work on this unique and important television event that will be watched by millions of viewers around the globe," Mischer says.

Joining the 13-time Emmy Award-winner as convention producer is Kirshner, one of Hollywood's leading production executives. In charge of this year's Tony Awards, he also produced the Democratic Party's 2000 convention in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Boston convention CEO Rod O'Connor counts nearly 5,000 delegates from 56 state and territorial delegations coming to the city July 26-29, a month before Republicans gather in New York for their convention. A total of 17,000 hotel rooms have been reserved for the delegates, party officials and activists.

"We're pleased to match state delegations with their hotels in record time - nearly three months before we did at the 2000 Convention in Los Angeles," O'Connor adds. And this year the farthest hotel will be only three miles from Fleet Center, whereas in Los Angeles delegates were lodged up to 20 miles away from the convention site.

Democrats will have another reason to party in Boston, and it's not because the city is showcasing likely presidential nominee and native Massachusetts son Sen. John Kerry.

For the first time in the party's long history, the DNC has closed its books with a major surplus for a pre-presidential year - raising more than $12 million in the final fourth quarter of 2003. By comparison, in the last quarter of 1999 - when Al Gore had his sights on the Oval Office - Democrats donated only $5.5 million, less than half the present amount.

ROTATING PRESIDENTS

Anybody have a dollar coin in their pocket?

Despite millions of taxpayer dollars spent on its promotion, the Sacagewea dollar coin hasn't caught on with Americans. But that could soon change.

Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), who authored the highly successful "50-State Quarter Program," has introduced the "Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2004." Apart from educating adults and children - and putting money in their piggy banks - the new program could once-and-for-all popularize the dollar coin while earning Uncle Sam $5 billion in the process.

Adopting a similar model as the 50 state quarters, which bear images connected to each state, the image on the front of the dollar coin would be replaced with images of U.S. presidents. Four presidents a year would be honored, in order of their service, with a likeness of the president, his name and dates of service.

"We all know George Washington was the first president, but how many can tell the exact dates of his service to the country?" Castle asks. "How about the dates of service of the famous Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant, who later became president?"

Before Castle introduced the quarter program, the U.S. Mint was making about 400 million quarters per year. By the next year, it was producing 1.2 billion quarters. The congressman is banking on similar results once the dollar coin program starts in 2006.

"The Mint estimates that one person in each household is collecting the quarters and they are collecting a full set," he says, noting that the federal government has recognized $6 billion in savings as a result.

The dollar coin legislation also addresses stubborn vending machines and transit systems - circulation ills that befell the dollar after it was introduced in 2000.

Finally, the bill proposes the creation of a separate nearly pure gold investment-grade bullion coin honoring presidential first ladies "who have done so much for our country," says Castle. On the front of the coin would be the likeness of the spouse, her terms of service and the order in which she (or him, if that should become the case) served.

"These investment-grade coins would be struck in gold that is .9999 percent pure, a purity of gold the Mint never before has used to strike coins," he says.

SIDNEY'S SALONS

Bill Clinton's attack dog, Sidney Blumenthal, who before becoming a senior adviser to and defender of the former president reported for the New Republic, The Washington Post and the New Yorker, has landed at Salon.com.

"We're excited about the addition of Sidney Blumenthal to our staff and the opening of our new Washington bureau, which is Salon's most ambitious editorial expansion in years," writes Salon editor/founder David Talbot.

In addition, Salon.com will initiate a "strategic alliance" with the British newspaper the Guardian, running daily items from that paper while Salon.com will be featured on the Guardian online. Talbot says Salon.com also will become a daily contributor to the new left-leaning progressive talk-radio network, Air America Radio.

In addition to Blumenthal, Air America's listeners will be hearing from political activist Al Franken, commentator Janeane Garofalo, and Martin Kaplan, former chief speechwriter to Walter F. Mondale.