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Volunteers Help New York Host Republican Visitors - 2004-08-24

More than 20,000 people have applied to fill 8,000 volunteer spots at the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York. The applicants represent a remarkable cross-section of Americans: Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and possibly a few anarchists. The applicants are young, old and middle-aged, students and executives, Americans and even some non-Americans.

New York officials want scenes of the city during the convention to dazzle television viewers. More importantly, off-screen, they want to hear cash registers ringing as delegates shop, sightsee and visit cultural institutions and theaters.

Months ago, the non-partisan New York City Host Committee launched a promotional campaign to encourage New Yorkers, who generally lean toward the Democratic Party, to warmly welcome the Republicans and to volunteer to work at city-sponsored convention events.

Former New York City Mayor Edward Koch, a Democrat, appears in a television advertisement with an elephant, the Republican Party symbol.

"New York City, the greatest city in the world," says Koch in the ad. "No wonder the Republicans are coming here for their National Convention. While they're here, make nice, volunteer to show them the ropes. They won't know uptown from downtown. They've never ordered pizza by the slice and they don't know alternate side of the street parking. Hey you, move it. It's Tuesday."

"Be a part of it. Apply to volunteer online at," concludes an announcer.

The number of people, some 20,000, who applied to work as volunteers astonished the staff at the New York City Host Committee. Deputy Operations Director Neil Jacoby says many of the volunteers are taking the week off from work.

"We have applications from every state in the country," he said. "Mostly from the tri-state area, but also from every state including Puerto Rico, Guam, Alaska, Hawaii."

Neil Jacoby says the volunteers will help in every aspect of the convention, staffing events, greeting delegates when they arrive in the city and taking them for a night out at a Broadway show.

"It is like having your mother waiting for you at the gate," he said. "In this case it will be a volunteer. At every point forward from the commute into the city, arriving at the hotel, boarding a bus to go to Madison Square Garden, arriving at the Garden, there will be a volunteer there to greet them, provide them with information, assist them, direct them to where they have to go and just provide a familiar and friendly face."

Volunteer facilitators have registered hundreds of volunteers each night and trained them in half day sessions.

The volunteer pool represents an incredibly diverse cross-section of Americans from every age, economic and educational group. Partisan politics are prompting some like this senior citizen who says, "I want to help Bush get elected again. Absolutely."

But others, like accountant Maureen Walsh, say they could care less about politics.

"I am a native New Yorker and I thought that we would never see a Republican convention here again, or at least in my life time," she said. "So that was the reason why I decided to volunteer."

The volunteers are expected to put in three days of work. For facilitators, who have been interviewing potential volunteers, a much larger time commitment was required. It is worth the effort for a facilitator named Marella because she says it helps showcase New York.

"This is the first time that a Republican convention is coming to New York and it is an opportunity to help New York City gain more business like this," she said. "If this does sell, more people will come and spend money here, more people will enjoy the city. Many of the delegates who are attending have never even been to New York City before. So this is an opportunity on many different levels."

Sammy Abraham, a pharmacist from Egypt who hopes to become an American citizen, also wants to help his adopted city.

"It is good to help people, educate people on policies, let them know more, let them participate," he said. "That is pretty important. It is good to help a convention that is in the city you live at."

But Karen Kriegle, international relations student who is a native New Yorker, is more interested in the political process than promoting New York's image.

"I am a native New Yorker and I would like to see democracy in process," she said. "It is a unique opportunity. It does not matter what one's political party is. It is a matter of participating in the process. Everyone has a voice whether you agree with it or not."

Reflecting New York's ethnic mix, 39 percent of the volunteers describe themselves as fluent in a language other than English. Men and women are evenly divided. And almost half of the volunteers are under age 30.