The invasion of the Big Apple is coming, and its residents could not be less delighted. From next weekend, about 50,000 delegates and their guests will pour into town for the Republican Party Convention. They may be joined by up to a million political protesters, some very noisome.
Why us, is the cry of many New Yorkers who are dreading the confab of Republicans that starts on 30 August. Never before has the party of George Bush chosen New York as the host city for a convention. This is Democrat territory: fewer than one in five New Yorkers voted for Mr Bush in 2000.
Solidarity is the answer. The Republicans settled on New York soon after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Coming to town in 2004 would be the perfect gesture, they thought, but Democrats see it differently. They say that the President is trying to exploit the tragedy of 2001 and use the backdrop of a maimed Manhattan to cast himself as the tough leader who can crush terrorism.
For Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican himself, the four-day gathering is an opportunity for his city to sell itself. But he is concerned that it could go horribly wrong. How nice will New Yorkers be to their guests? And how violent may the promised protests become?
With only a week to go, the city is in a stand-off with an activist group called United for Peace and Justice that expects as many as 250,000 people to turn out for an anti-Bush rally next Sunday. The group is suing for the right to hold the march in Central Park. The city is refusing, citing probable grass damage.
"I am afraid this Central Park thing is really going to blow up," said Gary Ferdman, director of a business consortium that persuaded Mr Bloomberg to announce last week a discount program for protesters who behave. Any activist who promises to protest peacefully will be rewarded with a badge entitling them to discounts in restaurants, hotels and theatres.
Scores of other groups are planning their own demonstrations, including Planned Parenthood, which will stage a march across the Brooklyn Bridge in defense of a woman's right to abortion. Only a tiny number of permits have been issued for demonstrations outside Madison Square Garden, the sports and concert area where the Republicans will be gathered.
The police department, bracing for trouble, will field maximum numbers of officers to guard the Garden and hotels where delegates are staying. It has invested in hi-tech loud hailers capable of emitting orders to the public at 50 decibels, as well as mechanized barriers strong enough to repel vehicles.
Last week, a director of the FBI's anti-terrorism division acknowledged that the agency expects some of the protests to become violent. The FBI has sent out agents to infiltrate some of the political groups coming to New York to try to uncover their strategies. But no actual plot to cause violence has yet been found.
A recent ABC TV poll found that more than 80 per cent of New York residents wish the Republicans were not coming at all.
Determined that visitors should receive the right impression, the city has recruited 20,000 volunteers to greet delegates at the airports, shepherd them around town and make sure they enjoy themselves.
But some protesters plan to stand outside delegates' hotels and dispense deliberately inaccurate information to befuddled Republicans.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd