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City, DNC officials at odds over convention planning

Mayor Thomas M. Menino telephoned Democratic convention chair Bill Richardson on Tuesday to smooth over tensions between city and national party officials that had boiled over after Menino snubbed Richardson in Boston two weeks ago, convention organizers said yesterday.

The talk between the two has somewhat calmed mounting tension between Menino and the city's convention host committee on one hand and, on the other, the Democratic National Committee officials and their staff in Boston preparing the party's 2004 presidential nominating convention.

Nevertheless, the day after Menino and Richardson talked, the host committee, Boston 2004, distributed a press release saying it had held a lunch for corporate leaders involved in telecommunications contracts and other business at the convention. The release, and the luncheon, caught the DNC by surprise, particularly since it is working on similar issues.

In an episode before the phone conversation, staffs of the host committee and the DNC had scheduled a meeting for Richardson with the host committee's finance committee, according to one source involved in the negotiations, but Menino aides ordered it canceled. Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, was in town for other public events as well, but he left Boston upset over the mayor's treatment of him, according to a Democratic source.

While it's not unusual for convention organizers to differ with their hosts, the problems in Boston stem from Menino's close hold on many details and decisions in the planning, party sources said.

Yesterday, both sides publicly dismissed the reports of tension and conflict. "They have a very good relationship,'' said Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks.

Menino allies said the mayor, while frustrated that the DNC is not sufficiently respectful of his political position, has become concerned over the perception that there are tensions between him and the national party leaders. "The mayor is not interested in there being a big blow up or story about how people are not getting along,`` said one adviser to the mayor. "There's too much at stake, and the mayor's reputation is on the line.``

David Passafaro, Menino's former chief of staff and chairman of the host committee, confirmed that Menino had telephoned Richardson. But Passafaro said he was convinced there are no problems in the relationship. He said Menino was not able to meet with Richardson two weeks ago because the mayor was rushing to catch a plane for an out-of-town meeting. He said Menino called Richardson the day after he returned from Italy this week.

``The mayor was just in the process of getting out of town himself,`` Passafaro said. ``Their schedules didn't match.``

Menino's press aide, Seth Gitell, said he was not aware of the canceled fund-raising meeting. "Mayor Menino didn't try to cancel any kind of meeting,'' Gitell said. ``He made no such effort.''

Nonetheless, it is clear from interviews with both local and national organizers over the last month that there is increasing conflict among the organizers, with both sides claiming the other is not coordinating with or respecting the other. Menino feels the DNC is not doing enough to highlight Boston and his image while the DNC staff is expressing frustration that the mayor is living up to his reputation for controlling every detail.

In the larger picture, however, the conflict seems to stem from what is also unique about Boston as a site for the national convention: Its local politicians are playing an unusually active role in the planning, creating constant conflicts by ignoring the DNC staff, local Democratic officials say.

"The DNC is used to coming into a city and everyone lays down for them,'' said one member of the host committee and a Menino ally. "But Boston feels it is the crÁeme de la crÁeme of the political world and that is not going to happen here.''

In the Menino camp's view, the DNC brass has dropped into Boston with a minimal amount of notification and has requested meetings with the mayor. That ruffled feathers in the top echelons of City Hall. When the national committee came to Boston to announce that the convention would take place here next July, Menino and his aides felt the party did not highlight him or the city's successes.

Passafaro acknowledged Menino is paying close attention to the convention plans, but he says he doesn't believe that has caused any serious aggravation. "The mayor is intimately involved, as he should be,'' he said. "He is delighted the convention is coming here and at his core, he is a political guy.''

One relationship that has held strong through the conflicts has been that between Menino and US Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Kennedy aides said the senator sings Menino's praises, while the mayor is respectful of the senior senator. More than any others, the two are on the hook for raising the private funds to meet the convention budget.

Yvonne Abraham and Rick Klein of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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