Convention Fact Check: Rumors and Realities
Pretty much from the moment in September 2006 when the Republicans unveiled plans to congregate in the Twin Cities for their shindig to mark the passing of the red telephone from George W. Bush to the party's new standard-bearer, speculation has swirled around the Great Event.
We now know, of course, that the Republican National Convention will be held at the Xcel Energy Center, from September 1 through the 4th. We're fairly certain that John McCain, barring health issues, will give a triumphant speech. And we're happy to report that scuttlebutt about large advance orders of tri-colored balloons, confetti, and bunting has been confirmed.
But what about all the rest? Here's a quick rundown of some of the rumors circulating around the convention, along with the realities.
* Will protesters be herded into a pen to shout their slogans miles from their intended targets?
No, says St. Paul's assistant police chief Matt Bostrom.
"The city of St. Paul is a free-speech zone," Bostrom said. "I say that proudly. I was disappointed when I saw what Boston did (in handling protesters at the 2004 Democratic Convention). I don't understand this idea of putting people in a pen someplace so they can express themselves. That's not the way we will do things."
* Will St. Paul bars be allowed to stay open until 4 a.m. to suck extra profit from visiting flat-taxers interested in spending their nights getting shit-faced?
Not on our watch, said the St. Paul City Council, by a narrow 4-3 vote.
"It would be nothing short of a nightmare," said Council Member Dave Thune, whose Second Ward includes downtown. He said he wants to spare downtown residents the sight of "puking Republican lobbyists" in the streets.
* Will the Secret Service shut down the vast network of tunnels connecting caves alongside the Mississippi to the basements of downtown St. Paul?
Well, yeah. But wouldn't you?
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS first reported on the tunnel systems in 2005. According to St. Paul city employees, there are places people could go and wreak havoc.
From caves along the river, to manhole covers—if you know what you’re doing, you could wind up downtown, in places touching the foundations of secured buildings.
"We are going to use a variety of means to secure those," said St. Paul Police Assistant Chief Matt Bostrom.
* And what about that homeless shelter, anyway? Will it be shut down for the convention?
Let's take a closer look at this one. In case you haven't heard, St. Paul's hockey-rink-cum-convention-center sits directly across the street from one of the Twin Cities' largest refuges for the homeless. The Dorothy Day Center, run by Catholic Charities, houses nearly 200 people per night. And because the security cordon around the convention has yet to be made public, speculation is rife that the shelter will fall within the perimeter, and that all those living at the shelter will be displaced.
This theory was explored by MPR last year in a story quoting three homeless folks staying at the shelter who worried that they'd get kicked to the curb.
"That's the whole idea is to make sure that none of us go over there, to harass the people or to panhandle, or anything like that," says [a homeless shelter guest]. "That's what they're more worried about, us going over there and pandhandling or harassing the people cause it makes them look bad."
Erin Dady, who said I could identify her as St. Paul's convention czar (her actual title is St. Paul Marketing Coordinator, as well as Director of Convention Planning), says such rumors are wildly overstated.
"I just don’t understand how this has been a story for two years," she says. "It blows my mind."
As it turns out, Dady was quoted in that MPR story confirming "the possibility" that the center could be within the security perimeter.
But as Dady explains it--and as she insists she explained it when MPR asked the same question more than a year ago--the center will almost certainly fall outside of the core perimeter, meaning that no one working or staying at the shelter would need a special security clearance or a photo ID to come and go from the building. However, she adds, the shelter is highly likely to be within the no-driving zone.
Should Catholic Charities decide it's too much of a pain to keep the center open during the convention, Dady says, the city will help find somewhere else for all the homeless to stay.
As for Catholic Charities, spokeswoman Rebecca Lentz says the organization will make no decisions until the perimeter--determined by the Secret Service together with the St. Paul PD--has been publicly announced.