It is being billed as the perfect place for celebrations during the Republican National Convention next summer, with shows, fine works of art, health clubs, bars, cafes, amazing views, luxury staterooms and restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. And it is just a short walk to Midtown.
But before its visitors can cross a New York City street, they will have to pass over a gangplank. The Norwegian Dawn, a 2,240-passenger luxury cruise liner, has 15 decks, 14 bars and lounges and babbling brooks. But even docked at a pier on the Hudson River, it is not New York City. And, to many critics, that is the point.
The House majority leader, Tom DeLay, would like the ship to serve as a floating entertainment center for Republican members of Congress, and their guests, when the convention comes to New York City next Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.
"Our floating hotel will provide members an opportunity to stay in one place, in a secure fashion," said a spokesman for Mr. DeLay, Jonathan Grella. He did not elaborate.
Perhaps Mr. Grella is reluctant to talk because Mr. DeLay's idea has infuriated a cross section of New Yorkers, much to the delight of Democrats and the embarrassment of some Republicans.
New York would lose money if Mr. DeLay decides to charter the ship because it would draw visitors — and dollars — away from city hotels, restaurants and shops.
As for the more ephemeral issue of perception, the proposal to remove visitors from the hubbub of city life has been broadly received as a slight — a suggestion that the city's hotels and restaurants, not to mention its people, are not quite good enough for Republicans from out of state.
Republicans are not necessarily happy, either. Many say the cruise ship could undermine one reason New York was chosen for the first time in the party's history as the site of its convention: to help advance the idea that Republicans are the new big-tent party, trying to embrace all voters.
Instead, Republican strategists say, being docked on the Hudson River would send out the message that they are a bunch of elitists who will not mingle with city residents — and just might be ducking New York's laws, including the one that prohibits smoking in public places (a cruise ship might be exempt, or at least unwelcome territory for a city health inspector).
"In an era of nonstop news and visuals, do you want the visual of the convention to be a group of people sequestered on a cruise ship?" said one Republican strategist, who added that there is a lot of hand-wringing among Republicans in New York and Washington over the plan.
Still, few Republicans are willing to publicly challenge Mr. DeLay, whose nickname in Congress is the Hammer.
Representative Vito J. Fossella of Staten Island, the only Republican in the New York City Congressional delegation, initially worked with Mr. DeLay to present the cruise ship idea to the other members. Now, all his spokesman will say is that the idea of the ship is not Mr. Fossella's, he is merely passing on the information to his fellow party members.
Gov. George E. Pataki, the three-term Republican who said in a statement that he would prefer to see conventiongoers use New York's hotels, has not publicly called for Mr. DeLay to abandon the idea.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a fellow Republican whose relations with Mr. DeLay have nonetheless been strained, has also been cautious with his remarks.
One Republican strategist said he imagined that New York tabloids would run headlines like "Ship of Fools" or "Titanic."
Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from Nassau County, said: "I won't be on the ship. If they want to have it, fine." But, he added, "I think it could send the wrong signal, that Republicans are isolated from the city, just wining and dining and drinking and not being part of city life."
That is exactly what has New York's Democrats chortling. "What is it? They don't want to be contaminated by us?" said Representative Charles B. Rangel, a Democrat from Harlem. He vowed to wage a campaign against the cruise ship and criticized Mr. Bloomberg for not speaking out more vociferously. "It is a very, very unfriendly thing to do," Mr. Rangel said.
But Mr. DeLay has indicated that he has no plan to back off.
Mr. DeLay has won power — and loyalty — from Republican members of Congress by making sure they were treated luxuriously. He saw to it that House ethics rules were changed so that members could accept free trips and lodging to attend charity events.
At the Republican convention in Philadelphia in 2000, he provided representatives with cars and drivers, and he set up a hospitality suite inside a luxury railroad car. This time, he would not be footing the bill for the ship, but is the driving force behind making it available during the convention, according to Republicans.
The idea of using the cruise ship, which operates out of New York City year-round for Norwegian Cruise Line, first came up when the company approached Republican leaders several weeks ago, a company spokeswoman said. The cruise line has also approached Democrats about their convention, which will be held in Boston in July, but those talks have not progressed as far as they have with the Republicans, said a spokeswoman, Susan Robison.
Ms. Robison and a DeLay aide also confirmed that Susan Hirschman, Mr. DeLay's former chief of staff, is a member of the lobbying firm hired by the ship's owners to pursue this kind of business.
Ms. Hirschman did not return a call for comment, and Ms. Robison said she did not know if Ms. Hirschman made the original pitch to the Republican leadership. But once the pitch was delivered, Mr. DeLay and Mr. Fossella presented the plan to Congressional Republicans.
Immediately, the proposal was viewed by many political insiders as another episode in the increasingly hostile relationship between Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. DeLay. In October, Mr. Bloomberg called on wealthy New Yorkers to avoid giving donations to any member of Congress who does not help New York. He singled out Mr. DeLay, saying, for example, that he had made a proposal to change federal financing formulas that would cost the city $300 million in federal transportation aid.
Mr. Bloomberg has reacted cautiously to the ship episode, making statements that are carefully worded to avoid antagonizing the majority leader. Nonetheless, he has made his feelings about the cruise ship proposal known.
"We have plenty of hotel rooms, it's a safe city, it's the safest place you can be almost with a lot of people around you, is right here in the streets of New York City, and why you'd want to be away from that, I don't know," the mayor said last week when reporters asked about the proposal.
People close to Mr. DeLay said that he was not too happy with the mayor's remarks to potential donors in New York, but that they did not think that Mr. DeLay proposed the cruise ship to spite Mr. Bloomberg.
"I think DeLay felt there was a benefit of being on a cruise ship," said one Congressional Republican who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "He felt it was classy and upscale."
It is upscale. In fact, people who stay there will, on average, pay higher room prices than they would for the negotiated rates in New York hotels. The Republican National Committee has booked 22,000 hotel rooms for the convention at an average rate of about $196 per night; in comparison, the rate on the ship is about $240 to $430 a night, according to recent news reports. Ship guests would have to pay state and city sales taxes, but it is not clear if they would also have to pay the city's hotel taxes, according to the city and the cruise line.
The mayor's office said it was also unclear whether the city's law banning smoking in all restaurants and bars would apply to the cruise ship. That would have to be studied further, a spokesman said.
The Norwegian Dawn has 10 restaurants. It also has grand Garden Villa suites with a garden and babbling brooks. The ship has a children's park with a dinosaur theme, and it has a 1,000-seat theater. It is registered in the Bahamas, and its staff is multinational, Ms. Robison said.
Mr. DeLay's aides, as well as representatives for the cruise line, have tried to argue that Norwegian Cruise Line brings business to the city because the ship operates out of New York year round, and that this, too, would bring in revenue. Local people would be hired for jobs like baggage handling and passenger check-in, Ms. Robison said.
But those arguments did little to dampen the criticism, including charges that the Republicans misled New York businesses when they negotiated to bring the convention to the city.
"It is certainly not within the spirit of the convention, and the committee's pledge to help drive the economic engine of New York City," said Joseph E. Spinnato, president of the Hotel Association of New York City, in a statement. "It also does not conform to the negotiations conducted in good faith between the Republican National Committee and the hotels."
Cristyne L. Nicholas, the president of NYC & Company, the city's tourism bureau, also criticized the cruise ship plan. Ms. Nicholas, whose ex-boss, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, is an official host of the convention, said the ship sent the wrong message about New York and would deprive its passengers of enjoying what New York has to offer.
But, she said: "I'm an optimist. If Tom DeLay goes to the West Side, maybe he will see the need for the transportation money. Maybe he'll see how much help New York needs from the federal government."www.nytimes.com/2003/12/01/nyregion/01SHIP.htmlE-mail this article