BOSTON – The possibility that John Kerry (search) may delay accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention (search) here is compounding the upset of city officials and business owners, who already are unhappily looking ahead to traffic tie-ups expected during the four-day gathering.
"It's one thing to hold the neighborhood hostage because of a political convention," said Robert Torabgar, manager of Hilton's Tent City, a sporting goods store in the shadow of the FleetCenter, the convention site in the densely built downtown. "But to have the neighborhood closed just because of a political rally is a little harder to take."
Kerry said Monday that no decision had been made about whether he will accept the nomination at the July 26-29 convention or wait a few weeks to even the financial playing field with President Bush.
Both presidential candidates are to collect $75 million in public financing after becoming their party's nominee. But with Democrats meeting five weeks earlier than the Republicans, Kerry's money would have to last that much longer.
After a weekend of criticism, including from Boston's Democratic mayor, Thomas Menino (search), Kerry sought Monday to reassure anxious Bostonians by promising that the convention will not be shortened or in any way diminished.
"Boston will be open for business," the Massachusetts senator said aboard his campaign plane. "People will make a lot of money. We're going to have a full-fledged convention, and people are going to have a fantastic time."
Menino, who has been the convention's biggest cheerleader despite escalating concerns over the logistics, had said Kerry should seek to change federal finance laws, which limit the candidates to $75 million in public funding after they are nominated, rather than delay accepting the nomination.
Menino sounded a more conciliatory note Monday, saying such an unprecedented move on Kerry's part could actually draw more visitors and media to Boston, not less — as some fear.
"It's a disappointment," Menino said. "But we'll do the platform piece of the convention. We'll go through all the regular procedures. The convention will go on."
Word of Kerry's financial creativity could not have come at a worse time.
Convention organizers recently announced that North Station, one of the city's main commuter rail terminals, will be closed convention week and that miles of busy Interstate 93 will be shut down during evening hours.
Traffic patterns in New York are expected to be virtually unchanged during the Republican National Convention.
Many Boston commuters have said they will take the week off, while others plan to car pool or telecommute. Bars and restaurants near the convention site expect to prosper, but other nearby businesses were considering closing for the week — even before Kerry's possible convention strategy became public.
The FleetCenter presents special security challenges because of its proximity to North Station, overhead rail lines and the tunnels of the newly completed Big Dig highway project.
Although Menino's office had projected the convention would bring $154 million to the city, two recent studies concluded that the loss of worker productivity and tourism traffic, combined with the cancellation of other events, has turned the gathering into a net loss for Boston.
Some fear a delayed nomination could lead to a shorter convention. Kerry said such talk "is silly."
"No decision has been made, but it will be a full-fledged convention with all the excitement and everything," he said. "What's important to me is that Boston is going to be open for business, people are sitting down, we're working through these issues."
Commuter Tom Stylianos said the sacrifice would be worthwhile if it gives Kerry a financial edge.
"I'm supportive of anything Kerry can do to garner the presidency," said Stylianos, of Lowell, who was canceling his twice-a-week commute into Boston that week. "If that means delaying the nomination, that's fine with me."