The Real New York, Please Stand Up!

Article excerpt

TURN on the evening TV news for just a glimpse of the 1992 Democratic National Convention and one is likely to tune into images of a crowded Madison Square Garden in the midst of a raucous Manhattan Island. Little wonder, given the presence of thousands of convention delegates - as well as thousands of reporters - that the image of New York City sent out to the world involves gritty stories about crime, street disturbances, poverty, and homelessness, not to mention ubiquitous demonstrations including pro- and anti-abortion rights groups.

But beyond all the noise from the streets and the traditional convention hoopla, there is another city here, one not often seen on the news: That's the "real" New York, fondly known as the "Big Apple" - a diverse, growing city of 7.3 million people. And this New York is still the financial, cultural, and economic capital of the United States.

Most city residents take the din of the convention in stride, since national conventions are hardly unique for this town. Historically, the Democratic Party and New York City have gotten along quite well, reflecting the urban, labor, and immigrant makeup of the Big Apple. The Tammany Hall club here was once the foremost (and somewhat notorious) Democratic Party organization in the US.

This year's Democratic convention marks the fifth held in the city. The party first convened in New York in 1868, when delegates nominated New York Gov. Horatio Seymour on the 22nd ballot. They met here again in 1924, 1976, and 1980.

When it comes to the "quality of life" in New York City itself, close to three-fourths of all residents actually like living here, which may come as quite a jolt to folks living beyond the Hudson River. While New Yorkers are concerned about crime, drugs, and economic conditions, more than 80 percent of the people here are "proud to be New Yorkers," says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

The main challenge here, he says, is race. More than 90 percent of all New Yorkers say they believe that race relations are in serious trouble, underscored by street unrest in such communities as Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, and Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

Part of the reason for racial turbulence is linked to changing demographics. By day, New York is still a largely "Anglo" town - with some 700,000 commuters pouring into Manhattan from the suburbs. But when those outsiders go home at night, the demographics of the city become quite different.

The majority of New Yorkers - those folks who actually live here - are now a mixture of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Moreover, longtime minority groups - such as blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Chinese-Americans - face intense competition for jobs from the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who flocked to the Big Apple during the 1980s.

Some sociologists say that the newcomers have saved the city, since they have offset a decline in older population groups who moved to the suburbs. Still, the city's changing economic base - with low-paying service jobs replacing traditional skilled manufacturing jobs - has led to strains between existing minority groups, such as blacks, and the newcomers. …