Time was when a community or state was thrilled and excited to get an event like a major political campaign stop, a presidential primary or a presidential debate. It once sounded so prestigious and, some thought, would go a long way toward "putting us on the map."
Then more practical citizens began to look into the cash drawers and determined that such "honors" could be quite costly, disruptive and did not necessarily produce the promotional thrusts they had been led to expect. The main sticking point is the costs. That will take on increasing significance as more politicians dodge the price of the visits.
A strong symptom of this growing resistance came this week when USA Today reported that Cleveland planned to bill the campaigns of President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry more than $270,000 for security and other costs incurred during nine campaign visits in six months.
USA Today said the city doesn't really believe it will get paid but wants to make a point: "This is a national election. The cost ought to be borne by the federal government, not city governments that have the misfortune of being in swing states," said Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell.
The presidential campaign has concentrated on as many as 17 "battleground" states where the race looks close. So the candidates and their wives have visited often. Nearby Missouri has been a "target state" and it will be interesting to see what its costs will be.
At least eight cities have billed the campaigns for security and other costs but at last report only one had been paid. Dubuque, Iowa, billed both the Bush and Kerry campaigns $18,400 for three visits. The city received $1,300 from the Bush campaign and $3,000 from Kerry's, according to City Manager Susan Gwiasda. That should not be acceptable and must be contested.
It turns out presidential campaigns rarely reimburse cities for the cost of police, planning, ambulances or garbage pickup that even the briefest campaign stop can require. The campaign people say that the Secret Service is responsible for security costs.
According to USA Today, in Cloquet, Minn., the city agreed to cover $4,000 for security when Kerry visited July 2. But the town balked at spending $3,000 to remove several street lights as ordered by the Secret Service to provide a quick exit for Kerry's motorcade. In York, Pa., a July 9 visit by Bush cost the city more than $21,000, mainly for police. It included $7,100 for firefighters and emergency medical technicians, $888 for planning and $200 for a doctor.
Good point: "We make civic groups pay for these things when they have a parade. Why not a campaign?" said York Mayor John Brenner. Cleveland expects the running tab to double after the vice presidential debate is held there Tuesday.
More and more, cities and states are not interested in "favors" from political people who want to stage events and not pay for all the added costs. With so many communities struggling to make ends meet, why should any community be at the mercy of well-heeled political forces that are not willing to pay the bills they create?