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CONVENTION '04

Planners bill tonight's concert on bay as makeup gift to city

The Secret Service will take over the University of Massachusetts at Boston campus this afternoon in advance of tonight's free James Taylor/Boston Pops concert, where vice presidential candidate John Edwards will loosen his tie following the biggest speech of his political career.

The "Pops on the Bay" concert, billed by Democratic convention planners as a gift to the city for four days of highway closures and Draconian security, will cap a busy day highlighted by Senator John F. Kerry's return to Boston, and Edwards's prime-time convention address.

After landing at Logan International Airport this morning, Kerry is scheduled to lead a noon rally in Charlestown that will mark the official end to his cross-country campaign swing, during which he sought to highlight his personal history. The trip began in Denver, near the town where Kerry was born.

Yesterday, tow trucks spent the day yanking away cars parked in the shadow of the Bunker Hill obelisk in Charlestown's Monument Square, which sits on the Freedom Trail. Kerry called his preconvention campaign swing "America's Freedom Trail."

It remains to be seen if Kerry, who studied guitar under Taylor, will put in an appearance at the UMass concert. Kerry campaign staffers yesterday refused to offer details regarding his schedule, citing security and evolving planning.

"Officially, we haven't had any official word from the campaign, although there is a significant Secret Service dimension to the security," said UMass spokesman Robert Connolly. "We're certainly preparing for VIP guests."

Surprise has been the essence of Kerry's operation during convention week. On Sunday night, the presumptive Democratic nominee made an unexpected appearance before the sold-out crowd at Fenway Park when, along with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, he popped out of the Red Sox dugout to throw out the first pitch.

Tonight, about 20,000 people are expected to attend the concert, despite the afternoon closure of Interstate 93 and random bag searches on MBTA subways.

John Williams, the composer of the "Star Wars" movie theme and a former conductor of the Pops, will again wield the wand tonight. Taylor, a longtime Kerry friend, is expected to perform a full set. And an 18-minute fireworks show will light up the skies over Dorchester Bay after the concert.

The fireworks and concert, which will cost $1 million, are being paid for by an anonymous donor.

Apparently, Bostonians are happy to receive the "gift" concert. Tickets, which were distributed during the weekend at several area supermarkets and libraries, were snapped up almost immediately, according to store spokespeople and planners.

"They've been calling for tickets all morning but we ran out Sunday," said Helen Davis, a customer service representative at the Stop & Shop in Dorchester, where tickets were delivered Saturday. "We only had four or five left when I showed up Sunday, and I know because I got four. I'm taking my daughter and my two grandchildren."

A group of university employees who have gone without a contract for three years will be picketing at the front entrance to the campus, in an effort to draw public attention to Republican Governor Mitt Romney for refusing to submit a university-ratified contract to the Legislature for final approval.

But unlike the picket lines formed by Boston police officers earlier in the month, the protest being staged by Local 888 of the Service Employees International Union is not intended to force Kerry into choosing between his labor backers and event organizers.

"This is an informational visibility, not a picket," said Sarah Nolan, a spokeswoman for the Local 888 members. "We're asking all Democrats, candidates, delegates, to support us in our fight against Governor Romney. That's the issue, it's not about John Kerry."

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