NEW YORK – Discounted hotels and Broadway show tickets for convention protesters?
That's what city officials offered Tuesday to those who behave lawfully at the Republican National Convention (search). But the plan doesn't guarantee that only peaceful protesters will get the reduced prices and the free felt-tip pens.
"There is no reason we shouldn't welcome them in the same way we are welcoming the delegates and the press," Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search) said. "The right to protest is a basic American right ... and New York City is a place where you can come and get your message out."
"Most times, people try to keep protesters from coming, and they certainly don't go out of their way to accommodate them," he said.
Bloomberg, however, turned down requests for a 250,000-person anti-war protest in Central Park on the eve of the convention. Protest organizers rejected the city's offer of the West Side Highway and have threatened to sue.
Protest groups said they were not impressed by the city's attempt at hospitality, and said hotel rooms remain unreserved and theater tickets unsold because Bloomberg has alarmed many potential visitors.
"They probably realize now that you're going to see more demonstrators than convention delegates and they'd better cater to them, too," said Tanya Mayo, national organizer for Not in Our Name, one of the groups seeking the park permit.
A Web page linked to the city's tourist bureau offers discounts to various hotels, including the New Yorker Hotel; retail stores (a free felt-tip marker with purchases of more than $10 at Kroll Office Products); attractions such as the Museum of Sex and the Whitney Museum of Art; and theaters, including performances of "42nd Street" and "Naked Boys Singing."
About a dozen restaurants are also offering discounts. "It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," said Bloomberg.
Under the plan, white buttons with the Statue of Liberty holding a sign welcoming "Peaceful Political Activists" will be distributed to groups with protest permits. But anyone else can download discount cards from the Web site.
Minutes before Bloomberg's announcement, police arrested four women from the activist group Code Pink as they tried to unfurl a banner protesting the mayor's refusal to allow the Central Park rally. They were charged with reckless endangerment, unlawful posting of advertising and disorderly conduct.
The Republican convention will be held Aug. 30-Sept. 2 at Madison Square Garden.