Return Of The Chicago Seven? Not Likely

To erase memories of '68, city leaders are spending big

The policeman isn't there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder. -- Mayor Richard J. Daley, 1968 Democratic Convention

The images are marked indelibly on the nation's conscience. Policemen beating protesters bloody with their batons. Tear gas scattering crowds. TV news broadcasts cutting from Hubert H. Humphrey's nomination to what was called a "police riot" outside the hall. An enraged Mayor Daley mouthing an obscenity at one convention speaker.

The last Democratic National Convention in Chicago, in 1968, showed the city at perhaps its worst since the gangland warfare of the 1920s, and crippled Humphrey's campaign. "There was this image that Chicago was the city that couldn't allow dissent," says Abe Peck, a '68 protester and now a professor at Northwestern University.

This time, the Chicago business community and Mayor Richard M. Daley, the former mayor's son, are planning something quite different. In an unprecedented fund-raising drive, business leaders have anted up $9 million in cash. Some $4.5 million more in contributed goods and services is expected. The state and city will chip in up to $13 million, giving the the 1996 DNC some $25 million to reconfigure and beef up security at the United Center, the convention site, and otherwise prepare. "The whole world is going to be looking at Chicago, especially after '68," says Richard C. Notebaert, CEO of Ameritech Corp. and co-chairman of the Chicago '96 committee raising money for the convention. "We ought to make sure the place looks good."

Chicago's appeal to the business community is highly unusual. Most host cities use tax dollars to fund political conventions. But Mayor Daley decided instead to tap corporations through Chicago '96, co-headed by his brother William, a lawyer. The appeal was double-barreled: Help the city look good while in the spotlight, and plant the seeds for future tourism and convention business.

The pitch found willing listeners. Even companies that don't usually make political donations, including Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Abbott Laboratories, chipped in. All told, 71 companies and individuals gave $100,000 each, and many others gave less. That contrasts with San Diego, which has raised $24 million for the Republican convention. Much is from private sources. But many contributions are linked to benefits, such as access to delegate parties, and only $3.5 million is from local businesses.

SHOWCASE. There's a practical side to the Chicago fund-raising: The DNC is expected to generate $122 million in local revenues. The city and state will take in an estimated $24 million in incremental tax revenue. The long-term image enhancement, the city hopes, may be even greater. "There's tremendous potential to make a positive impression," says William Daley.

Mayor Daley plans to use every chance to showcase Chicago to the 35,000 convention visitors. The city is spending $49 million on infrastructure improvements around the United Center, such as road repair and adding sidewalks. There will be parties, including an Aretha Franklin concert and a reception on the shores of Lake Michigan. The mayor's office will also tout its urban programs, including public school reform and community policing.

Some minor protests are expected. Tom Hayden, one of the leaders of the '68 demonstrations, is planning a commemoration. Others have said they will sleep in Lincoln Park, the scene of nightly clashes between Chicago police and demonstrators in '68. But Mayor Daley is unlikely to repeat his father's mistakes. The city's parks still will close at 11 p.m. But officials say Daley will likely let protesters sleep in the park anyway. This time, you can bet Chicago's Finest will be peacefully looking on.

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