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Delegates saw, spent little, says survey

They're gone now, scattered back to tiny villages in Kentucky and Alabama and the glass-and-chrome canyons of New York and Chicago. And they've taken with them a slender memory of Boston, a city most did not explore.

A Boston Globe survey of 572 delegates to the Democratic National Convention found that the majority spent less than $500 during their stay here and that more than half never ventured into the city's neighborhoods, confining their stay to the convention floor, hotel ballrooms, and the air-conditioned comfort of their chartered buses.

The survey found that the four-day, heavily fortified conclave was not the economic bonanza its planners promised, despite the hope of Mayor Thomas M. Menino to get convention-goers out into the neighborhoods and into the city's businesses.

Only a relative handful said they spent more than $1,000 during their stay, not counting their lodging. Most said they ate out at least four times during convention week, aside from meals at their hotel or the FleetCenter.

Still, the Democratic delegates promise to be goodwill ambassadors for their host city. An overwhelming majority questioned in the survey pronounced Boston a friendly, clean, and ethnically diverse city, a place which nearly all would visit again.

Their favorite neighborhood was the North End, but aside from that area just a few blocks from the FleetCenter, neighborhoods like Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park were terra incognita.

As she sat with her state's delegation on the convention floor just hours before John F. Kerry accepted his party's presidential nomination, Laura Boyd of Norman, Okla., said she knew there was fiscal pain beneath the red-white-and-blue bunting that festooned many storefronts.

''I worried about that because as I walked around I could see that there was no business," said Boyd, 55, who ran for governor six years ago. ''I was concerned about that. As a small business owner, I'm thinking: I know you're hurting. I know you're not happy. But they never displayed that to the guests. And I really admired that."

In fact, throughout the city, delegates reported episodes of enthusiastic neighborliness from subway workers, police officers, and shopkeepers. Even the street signs and directions were praised by 7 in 10 of those questioned.

''It's just unbelievable," said Maria A. Santos Laboy, a New Jersey delegate. ''So we wonder: Did they tell them to be nice to people? I think it's just natural. It's been great here."

Melvin Alston, 57, a delegate from Harlem in New York City, said that before his first visit here last week, his iconic image of Boston was shaped by old news footage of stones being hurled at buses bound for South Boston High School in the early 1970s.

''That bothered me a great deal, and I just had visions of going to Boston that were not good," Alston said. ''But when I came here, there was warmth. We were walking through the streets, and somebody said, 'Can I help you?' Boston is really much different than I expected."

Linda Schandelmeier, 55, and John Davies, 59, of Fairbanks, Alaska, said they got help and directions each time they pulled out their street map. ''We didn't even ask; they'd just tell us," she said.

At a Boston Pops concert, they were befriended by the couple sitting in front of them, who gave them advice on where to go and what to see. Then they filled them in on the conductor. ''She told us about how young and good-looking he is," Schandelmeier said.

''And she gave Linda her opera glasses," said Davies, laughing. Schandelmeier focused in on Keith Lockhart, in jeans and a black T-shirt on City Hall Plaza. ''He's kind of easy on the eyes," she said.

The Globe surveyed delegates from 41 states and Washington, D.C., at their hotels Thursday and Friday.

The survey found that just one in four delegates visited city neighborhoods, other than the North End, which is within easy walking distance of the FleetCenter, and the delegation parties that Menino threw Sunday before the convention started.

Many delegates were unapologetic about their in-the-bubble existence during their convention stay in Boston. For many self-described political junkies, this was about taking care of business, not sightseeing or lavish meals at downtown eateries.

''We have a lot of responsibilities," said Kathy Bannon, 57, a delegate from Carrollton, Texas. ''We have a job to do here. There are things that we need to get accomplished, and we need to make sure we get that done first."

Linda Langston, 51, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said she spent between $250 and $500 during the convention, visiting city restaurants four times, mostly at lunchtime.

''I've had a lot of free food; I absolutely admit that," she said. ''Our delegation breakfasts have been provided every morning. The lunches are what I've mostly gone out for, so you're not spending quite as much money as opposed to dinner. And there's been a ton of receptions. My God, those are open bars and open food. And I'm no fool. I'm as good as the next person. I'm going to take what's offered."

The delegate survey found that nearly half the delegates were making their first trip to the city. Nearly all said they would visit again.

And in overwhelming numbers they found it friendly, clean, easy to get around, and ethnically diverse.

''Boston's a real nice friendly town," Albert Hall, 67, a delegate and state representative from Gurley, Ala., said in a rich Southern drawl. ''I got lost and stopped in a little old restaurant. And they were just nice and polite. They even called somebody from out of the back to tell me how to get where I was going."

Lou Farinella, a delegate from Philadelphia, said he was impressed with the cleanliness of Boston's streets and the diligence of cleaning crews, scouring the roadways and sidewalks in the middle of the night. ''To see the cleaning crews out there at 2 a.m. was an amazing sight," he said. ''I saw them out there at 2, 3 a.m. They were working their butts off."

Farinella estimated he spent $7,000 in Boston this week, buying armloads of gifts for friends.

''Discover Card had to roll it over three times," he boasted. ''And it's Platinum Plus."

Linda Silva, a delegate from Glen Mills, Penn., took the opposite view of city cleanliness, saying she was proud of Menino for letting Boston's gritty side show during convention week.

''I'm very proud of the city for even letting us see that," she said. ''I mean, sometimes you may go to a city and they may clean it up. You may not see the poor, the homeless, the dirt. But it's an urban city. It's the way we live. It's the things we can't ignore. It's life."

Many delegates said they noticed that they -- and the platoons of security forces -- seemed to have the city pretty much to themselves during the convention.

''It has been pretty empty downtown," said Erik Wells, 37, a delegate and congressional candidate from Charleston, W.Va. ''Even when you were driving in the bus we didn't see a whole lot of traffic."

Lindsay Scola, 21, a delegate from Issaquah, Wash., said she was able to zip around the city on cabs that sat idling alone at red lights. ''It feels pretty empty," she said. ''It seems for a major city that there should be more people out, more cars, more traffic."

Kathy Black-Dennis, 49, a delegate from Pewee Valley, Ky., said the omnipresent security forces -- with snipers on rooftops and police on every corner -- made for an unusual atmosphere near the convention hall.

''We had helicopters overhead, police in full riot gear," she said. ''You felt extremely comfortable because of all the security. But I'd have to say that it was pretty chilling as well."

Nearly 1 in 10 delegates listed their visit to Fenway Park as a convention week highlight.

''Absolutely fantastic, beautiful, a cathedral," said Javier Valdez, 34, a delegate from Seattle. ''Please, citizens of Boston, don't tear it down. Save the Green Monster."

Brian Foley, a delegate from Long Island, N.Y., said he and his family enjoyed a ballgame there, but found some of the coarse language deriding the Yankees' playing ability to be unsuitable for his 9-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. ''Some of the fans were using, let's say, degrading terminology against the Yankees," Foley said. ''In Yankee Stadium it happens in the bleachers, and I know not to bring my children there. But this was in some of the best seats in the house, and a lot of younger children were there."

Only 5 of the 500 delegates surveyed said they would not come back.

''Boston is where we all got our start," said Natalie Tennant, a West Virginia delegate. ''This is what gives us the feeling that we as Americans can do whatever needs to be done. . . . We'll be back."

Phyllis Landrieu, 70, of New Orlean placed one condition on her return trip. ''I'm only coming back when your construction is done," she said.

Jenn Abelson and Maria Cramer of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Adam Krauss, Michael Levenson, Alonso Soto, Tyrone Richardson, Paysha Stockton, Emma Stickgold, and Elise Castelli contributed to this report. Thomas Farragher can be reached at farragher@globe.com.

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