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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Jeers for Bush's NY money making

By Matt Wells
BBC correspondent in New York

Protests outside fundraiser for President Bush
Protesters besieged a fundraiser for President Bush

President George W Bush came to mid-town Manhattan on Monday night for what was expected to be the most lucrative stop in his June fundraising marathon across America.

His re-election campaign for the 2004 race is already in full swing, and by the end of the month around $20m will be in the bank.

Roughly a quarter of that was handed over here, inside the Sheraton Hotel and Towers.

It was a classic New York scene.

The well-heeled and predominantly white presidential supporters queued along police barricades, having paid at least $2,000 each to meet the commander-in-chief, while protesters from a rainbow coalition of different pressure groups jeered across the street.

The several hundred protesters had been corralled by agitated NYPD officers outside the Sheraton's sister hotel diagonally opposite, waving placards for women's rights, immigrants' rights and civil rights of all shades.

Raising money at this stage never hurts, and it's become an expensive game
Walter Curley

Staff from Rosie O'Grady's Saloon next door on Seventh Avenue gawped through the windows, while tourists on an open-top double-decker bus drove by open-mouthed.

With the presidential cavalcade safely ensconced inside for a 1700 start, most guests clutching their precious fundraising invitations were in too much of a rush to talk to journalists.

Looking dapper in an expensive suit and bow-tie, 80-year-old Walter Curley was an exception.

"The President is not only highly intelligent, he's very good fun. Raising money at this stage never hurts, and it's become an expensive game," he said.

Stealing a march over the large and muddled field of Democrat contenders, the president's campaign machine is aiming to bring in a record war chest of around $170m in contributions.

There are already 36 full-time staffers working in the re-election headquarters in Virginia.

City of immigrants

Bronx-based lawyer John Wilson, and his wife Ann, were keen to deny the charge - being made loudly across the street - that the fundraiser was for Manhattan fat cats, who had benefited most from multi-billion dollar tax cuts for America's rich.

"We support his policies and what he's done to protect America, and New York," said Mr Wilson.

"I don't think you could call us fat cats - I'm a criminal defence attorney, and we're not even registered Republicans."

Oochok Zaidan
I am a Muslim, and a lot of my friends have decided to go home because they feel very insecure here
Oochok Zaidan

New York is a city of extremes but it is also predominantly a city of immigrants.

Aside from the noisy and emotional protests outside the hotel, campaigners gathered in downtown Manhattan just before the President's arrival to voice their concern that his administration's economic and social policies are alienating the most needy group of low-wage workers here.

"Tonight, President Bush will be surrounded by multi-millionaires who are able to pay for laws that allow them to avoid taxes, plunder our natural resources, ignore workers' basic health and safety needs, and dismantle public oversight of their actions," said Margie McHugh, director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Surrounded by supporters on the steps of City Hall, she argued that 75,000 more jobs were lost in New York following the 11 September attacks, than any other part of the country - the majority of those by low-wage immigrants.

One of the workers affected is Oochok Zaidan, an Indonesian by origin, who arrived in New York in the early 1970s and worked for the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center for more than 20 years.

He spent 13 months after the attacks fruitlessly looking for work.

I asked him what message he would give the President if he was attending the fundraiser.

"I am a Muslim, and a lot of my friends have decided to go home with their families because they feel very insecure here," he said.

"They have proved themselves good people, they're not terrorists, but they don't feel protected or respected now. I support this country - my labour is a part of this community."

The presidential machine is already cashing the cheques, but the battle over policies and ideas for the most powerful job in the world, still has a long way to run.

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