NEW YORK – The upside of attending a convention in New York City is that, unlike Boston, when reporters have down time, they can do some great shopping.
It's unknown whether it was a school-year scheduling coincidence or the city planned it, which is not something anyone should put past businessman-turned-mayor Michael Bloomberg, but this week is tax-free shopping week in the city. All purchases of clothing and accessories under $110 apiece are free of the 8.5 percent sales tax the city normally charges.
That means that the 50,000 delegates, media and other visitors here for the Republican National Convention can get some great deals on all kinds of apparel that just isn't sold back home.
This reporter had no problem buying skirts, a hat and a bag at bargain prices, but the elusive perfect pair of shoes could not be found. Having read that one enterprising Republican woman was selling T-shirts that said "Republicans for Manolo, Republicans for Bush," the thought of trying to purchase a pair of designer shoes was discouraging for a woman not working on a Republican budget. Surely, something wonderful can be found for something less than Blahnik's average $400 price, and if the weather keeps up, the effort will be made.
Of course, finding the perfect pair of shoes doesn't mean everyone will appreciate them. Like all good New York-based reporters, Liza Porteus carries her nice shoes in a bag to be pulled out once she arrives at her destination.
But with security at an all-time high for the convention, Liza's Steve Madden shoes got more than a once-over by security screeners in front of Madison Square Garden.
Packed in her bookbag were strappy sandals with silver heels, which the screener pulled out and seemingly jokingly said, "You know, this could be used as a weapon."
Looking down and seeing Liza wearing the flip-flops -- the same ones she wore at the Democratic convention in Boston last month -- she dons for travel between the convention center and the media workspace, the security guard gave a sideways glance before Liza assured him that while the shoes looked lethal, they surely were not.
Also raising suspicion, Liza was carrying around four bottles of water and two containers of orange juice in her bag. Battling a cold all week and entering a stadium void of any concessions, the intrepid reporter took every precaution to make sure she was operating at peak performance. No police officer can fault her that. At least, she said, the police in New York let guests bring water into the Garden, a luxury that was not permitted in Boston.
On day two of the convention, reporter Peter Brownfeld started to wear out the soles of his wellworn and heelless shoes, chasing protesters around and hiking from Chinatown to Midtown.
Peter's shoe selection was more practical than the other reporters, perhaps because he knew he was headed into unknown territory. Coming across a protest in Chinatown, Peter struck up a conversation with a veteran demonstrator who warned him to be prepared for violence and offered him a number for legal aid in case he should be arrested.
Peter said he didn't think that would be necessary -- after all, with rubber soles, he could just run if things got to out of hand. Besides, as a member of the media, he was pretty sure he would not face too much trouble from the police. The protester accepted Peter's explanation but not before warning again that tear gas and baton blows might be coming from the "sea of stick and pork."
Peter later had second thoughts about whether the police would cause him trouble. As the protest made its way to lower Manhattan, the officers surrounding the demonstration scowled at the protesters and even heckled them at times. One cop confronted Peter and demanded that he show him his press credentials in order to enter Thomas Paine Park.
Peter, of course, knew that credentials are not needed to enter a public park and told the police officer as much. The cop, Peter said, had no answer. When Peter told the cop he had no right to ask for Peter's work ID, the policeman left in a huff, mumbling, "Fine, if you’re going to fight about it."
While Peter may decide against shopping for new shoes, he may want to take a look at the Bush-Cheney '04 and Republican Party collectible buttons. But, if he does, reporter Kelley Vlahos warns he may find himself in another political debate of sorts.
One vendor selling a ubiquitous collection of buttons at one of the conventioneers' hotel lobbies was not a Republican, and had a lot to say about that fact. The gentleman, who did not want to be named, told Kelley that he used to be a Republican for many years, but the party began "taking some really extreme positions on social issues."
The unnamed vendor told Kelley that he felt like the "Republican Party deserted me. They moved too far to the right. I've felt more at home with Democrats."
Nonetheless, the guy continues to hawk his wares on both sides of the political aisle, and like any true businessman, quickly cut off discussion of his personal views about the Republican Party when a delegate approached his button-laden table.
Despite the grumblings of locals, the arrests of protesters and the unfortunate scent of the summer subway, things have been pretty tame in New York City. The sidewalks, hotels and stores are full, the delegates are getting quite a fair share of food and drink, and each day's convention activities run about three hours shorter than the Democratic event last month, leaving plenty of extra time to pursue the perfect pair of shoes.