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Boston's 'party' gets a new spin

Celebration theme gives way to security needs

Last month, Mayor Thomas M. Menino stood before a bank of television cameras to encourage all Boston-area residents to take part in Democratic National Convention events. The convention host committee captured the theme in the name of its public relations campaign: Celebrate Boston 2004.

Yesterday Menino was back in front of the cameras but with a very different message. Stay home for the week, telecommute if you can, and leave work early to avoid the traffic snarls, he told area residents. The host committee's new PR effort is titled: Let's Work Around It.

As convention planners seek to excite the public about Boston's first-ever national political convention, transportation planning has become the touchiest of subjects. Until yesterday, details had been scant and local leaders sought to assuage commuters' worst fears about convention week.

Now that the extent of road closings has been made public, an inherent tension is emerging for local convention planners. The desire to make the convention a community celebration is rubbing up against security precautions ordered for the first political convention since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"This is going to be a serious traffic condition that we're trying to manage," said Major Michael Mucci, who is managing State Police traffic preparations for the convention. "If everybody decides to have traffic as normal, we will back up to New Hampshire. It's as simple as that."

Local convention officials bristle at any suggestion that they're seeking to keep people away from Boston. Asked if the message of yesterday's briefing was for people to stay away from downtown during the convention, host committee president David A. Passafaro adamantly disagreed.

"No, that's not the message," Passafaro said. "This is a great thing and if people want to participate, they should. They just need to make smart choices on how to get in and out."

Still, convention organizers acknowledge the four-day event will drastically affect thousands of commuters. That's why they are asking employers to let workers take vacations or work earlier in the day, and why they have taken extraordinary steps like asking hospitals not to schedule elective surgeries during convention week.

Organizers noted, however, that commuting hassles won't stop area residents from enjoying the parts of the convention that are open to them. Most public events that are part of the Celebrate Boston campaign will be held in the three weeks prior to the event, when traffic is expected to be far lighter and no major road shutdowns are planned.

Menino said websites, print and broadcast media, and leaflets will keep residents apprised of plans for convention week, in late July.

"We have to work together on this, and we'll get through this," he said.

Police Superintendent Robert Dunford said the main advantage of early information about road closings is that commuters will have plenty of time to plot alternative routes.

"There will be inconveniences, there will be some delays, but nothing of the magnitude I think that some people expect," he said.

Anthony Flint of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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