Boston Housing Crunch Leaves Reporters in the Lurch

By: Joe Strupp

They say you never forget your first time. Well, if that holds true for political conventions, Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, and Jeremy Wadsworth of The Blade in Toledo may be hoping for memory loss.

“I’m not saying I’m having a lot of fun — I’m waiting to get home,” Wadsworth said today.

For the two rookie conventioneers, their introduction to the quadrennial event has been less than a picnic, at least on the housing front. While most reporters and photographers are staying a short cab ride away from the Fleet Center, at places like the Sheraton Boston and Hyatt Regency, Tibbetts and Wadsworth have been forced into less-exciting quarters out of town.

Two staffers at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, meanwhile, were forced to rent an apartment near Fenway Park, which has few amenities, but does offer a fire pole to get from one level to another.

“We went through the Democratic National Committee to get rooms and there were not enough rooms so I had to stay at an overflow hotel,” said Wadsworth, a Blade photographer who is spending nights at a Marriott in Burlington, about 25 miles outside of Boston. “I’m spending a lot of money on cabs, about $55 each way.”

Time is also something Wadsworth spends a lot of, getting back and forth from downtown Boston. Since his paper’s main focus is the Ohio delegation, he needs to be downtown by 7 a.m. each morning for the group’s daily breakfast, requiring a 5 a.m. wake-up. For the last two nights, he has not returned to his room until about 2 a.m.

“There is supposed to be a shuttle, but they keep moving the times and location,” he said. “I am resigned to having to take a taxi. And there are always huge lines for people waiting to get them.”

The 28-year-old photog, who has been with The Blade for five years, said he’s been able to get the shots he needs, sharing a convention floor pass with another photographer from the Blade’s sister paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It has been a challenge more than anything,” he said.

Tibbetts, a reporter and columnist for the 53,000 daily-circulation Times, will also be glad to return to familiar surroundings after being forced to stay at a Comfort Inn and Suites near Logan Airport to save money. Among his fellow guests there are several staffers from Al-Jazeera television.

“I made the reservations myself and I didn’t like the price of the [Ohio] delegation hotel [Boston Longworth],” said Tibbetts, whose hotel is about seven miles out of town. “That was something I was not prepared to pay, so I settled on this. It is saving the paper about $100 a night.”

Tibbetts, a 41-year-old father of two, said other costs at the convention, such as $3.50 for a bottle of water, have been difficult to take. “Back home, I could get a six-pack of beer for the same price,” he said. “We Iowans are frugal.”

But while staying out of town is saving him money, it is not saving time, Tibbetts said. “The first night, it took me more than an hour to get back to the hotel,” he recalls. “I couldn’t get a cab, so I took the T to the airport and had to wait for a shuttle bus to the hotel. I got in after midnight.”

And while he may not have credentials to sit in the Fleet Center’s most prime location, Tibbetts said his assigned seat above the stage and behind the podium area is ample, although he has to hunt down temporary floor passes to roam the lower areas. “I didn’t really have expectations. It has been a lot of work,” he said.

Then there’s Chris Rose, a columnist for the Times-Picayune and one of four of the paper’s staffers in town for the convention. Housing limitations forced him and Times-Picayune cartoonist Steve Kelley to take an apartment across the street from Fenway Park for a week.

For $2,000, the pair got a two-bedroom loft with running water, a bathroom and electricity, according to Rose. Oh yes, there’s also a large fire pole leading from the upstairs into the living room, which keeps things from getting boring.

“It was out of necessity,” said Rose, a 20-year veteran for the paper who covered two previous conventions in 1988. “But there is no cable, no amenities, and a low-flow shower.” Not to mention a lack of room or maid service.

Rose, 44, said the two journalists ended up in the accommodations after their attempt to get four Times-Picayune hotel rooms through the DNC resulted in just one available in the Louisiana delegation hotel, the Tremont Boston. The remaining staffers were offered a hotel in Quincy, about 30 miles from downtown, he said.

“We found something in the Boston Herald about available rooms and I e-mailed this guy,” Rose recalled via cell phone Wednesday. “We got it. It is kind of a glorified dorm room. It is like living in a bar.”

Rose joked that the DNC’s failure to find closer rooms for all four Times-Picayune reporters might have something to do with the paper’s history of endorsing Republicans. “We did a lot better with the Republican convention in New York,” he said. “We are staying at the Helmsley Park Lane.”

After moving in last Friday, the newsies were subjected to three straight days of loud, rowdy Yankee-Red Sox games across the street. “We had to wade through the thick of that, but didn’t have time to go to a game,” Rose recalled. He said getting to the Fleet Center has not been difficult, either by cab or foot. “It is a healthy walk, but I’ve done it,” he said. “It takes about half an hour.”

Still, Rose said the situation is not all that bad, although he is looking forward to the GOP convention, specifically “room service and having someone make my bed everyday.”

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