Q & A

Republican National Convention C.E.O. Bill Harris

The chief convention planner talks about the challenges and benefits of working in New York.

By Jane L. Levere February 26, 2004, 12:00 AM EST

Bill Harris has been involved with every Republican convention since 1972, and he is the chief planner for the 2004 event.

What are the biggest challenges of planning the convention?
The infrastructure you would develop to do this in a normal corporation takes months or years to conceptualize; we don't have time for trial and error. It has to work right the first time. We're not as monolithic as people think we are.

How does this compare to planning a convention elsewhere?
Although New York is extraordinarily rich in people, resources and talent, it’s also a very large city, very crowded, congested and expensive to do business in, so it adds a level of complexity and makes it an interesting and exciting challenge.

How many people are on your staff?
We will wind up with about 155 people to staff the convention. In addition to that, in the last two weeks prior to the convention and in the week of the convention, we will bring in several hundred people who will volunteer full time. The host committee will have 20 to 30 people. People on our staff will include operations and security people, an external relations director, communications department, media operations department designed solely to help the members of the media do their jobs, a production department, program development department, financial officer and legal department.

What other venues do you plan to use for events?
One of the great things about New York is the unbelievable number of great venues. And New York has an unbelievable list of places everybody in the country has heard of but maybe never seen. People can talk about Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Madison Square Garden—but they've never seen them. The problem is that we only get to have our people here for a few days—trying to time things out and prioritize what you're going to do is a challenge. We're in the process of narrowing it down now.

Still no plans to use the World Trade Center site?
We have a vision we want to present to the American people. We think [staying away from the site] is the best way to go about doing it.

Where will you be when the president takes the stage at the convention?
I don’t know—I would imagine I would be in the hall somewhere relatively close.

How will this convention be different from the last Republican convention?
Philadelphia was physically a lot different; here people will be a lot closer together, people will be a lot closer in the convention hall. In most cities we’ve been in before we have overwhelmed the hotel market and have had to go fairly far out.

What’s the best part of having the convention in New York?
New York is the capital of the world. It is an incredibly diverse, exciting, vibrant city and so the opportunity to be a part of it is exciting.

What long-lasting changes to the city will the convention create?
I think any time you have the opportunity to showcase a city this large it will have tremendous impact on the convention business, the tourism business. The short-term economic impact will be good. I think the long-term impact will be phenomenal.

Photo by Spencer T. Tucker

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