This year, as we all know, the national political conventions are all about technology. What a bore. As the Director of Security for a national political convention (first and only woman ever to have that job), it is impossible for me to imagine what that job must be in this chaotic time.
It was in NYC at Madison Square Garden (MSG) so we started to work about seven months before the convention. We probably would have started sooner but the Ringling Brothers had rented the venue for the circus and we had to wait until after it was cleaned up and fumigated because the animals really smell. Once the area was fumigated and cleaned we could start to rebuild the Garden to meet our specifications. The producer was brought in to look at the space and start to design the podium and the delegate areas. The capacity of MSG was roughly 35,000 people. No one was taking a count (like they are now doing at retail stores, but the NYC fire departments are experts on crowd sites. They can eyeball a room and tell if the crowd is manageable.)
Because the site was over Penn Station, there were concerns about lockers, restaurants and travelers, you can imagine there were “special’ circumstances. Not only did MSG need security but Penn Station had to be secured. There were so many different authorities involved, police, firemen, MSG security, FBI, Secret Service they outsourced Democratic Committee and the people in charge — that was me. Communications were complicated and there were no cell phones (not yet invented) , just bulbous, thick, gray Motorola radios with every security specialist on a separate channel. The radios were so enormous that I had to assign a volunteer just to carry my radios.
Part of my job was to develop a credential plan. What credentials would be acceptable in what areas. How would we credential the podium area, backstage, the rooms backstage for celebrities and speakers, the media, the candidate sky boxes, the media skyboxes and the VIP areas. (big money machers). It was so complicated that I created a t-shirt that showed what credentials would work in what areas. Needless to say, the MSG security needed to be in their uniforms so we had to assign a DNC volunteer to every MSG employee. The other security people would just grab a volunteer and turn them around in order to gaze at the layout.
It is exhausting just remembering it. There was policy to decide, for example, could Governors’ security be allowed to carry weapons into the hall to protect their Governor. The answer of course, was no. all we would need was some Governor’s security guy (sorry, Charles Durning, that position has been filled!) shooting in a hall with 35,000 people. There was policy about arrivals and departures, about terrorist groups, about protestors, and the most important thing: what we would do with my mother and her friend Sylvia, who sat in the VIP area not far from the President.
This year the Democrats did everything on line to taped. There was probably no need for any security because most people spoke from their homes on tape or to an empty auditorium. Sure, the ballroom had to be secured but there were only a few people and some press. I’m sure there were bomb dogs who were constantly searching both inside and outside the auditorium and offices from which people spoke, but that was, depending on the speaker, either Capital Hill Cops, Secret Service, or private security. Who else would you need? The Republicans are working out of the White House and because that’s illegal (you can’t do anything political in all but one room in the White House the President’s people will reimburse the taxpayer for anything spent. (Sure they will).
The beauty of past conventions was the chaos. It was so much fun just doing day to day business. And wondering if anything would work? Would there be enough transportation for all the guest and delegates? Where would people talk, meet, and negotiate and do actual politics? And What would the public think after four days of Convention? Would they be inspired enough to vote for your candidate? It’s kind of like making sausage. You never want to see what goes into it, but if it’s good, you will think it’s delicious and want more. I think I preferred being the chef, ordering everyone around and walking away with a hell of a sausage inside my backpack.