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The arguments still rage over Wednesday's presidential extravaganza in Marine Midland Arena: Was it a significant milestone in area history or just a pep rally for a threatened politician?

One thing is for sure: The appearance of President and Mrs. Clinton and Vice President and Mrs. Gore before a packed arena involved lots of taxpayer dollars on the federal, state, county and local levels.

Several government officials who assisted with the arrangements said the event had to cost at least $1 million. Most of the sum is expected to be picked up by the White House travel budget.

Because the White House billed it as a governmental affair based on Clinton's State of the Union address the night before, dozens of local government employees helped plan and execute the event, while hundreds of police officers supplied security. These in-kind services and police costs will be picked up by local taxpayers.

Throw in at least four airplanes to transport the presidential party, the costs of staging a major production in the arena, food, phone lines, private security and many other presidential requirements, and the bill for having a few guests stop by gets large -- some say seven figures.

"I'm in the business of marketing and running promotional events, and I'm telling you this one easily cost a million dollars," complained Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis. "This was a campaign stop -- nothing more than a Democratic Party love-in, paid for with government funds."

Just about every political observer who watched the Wednesday event says it provided powerful political ammunition for the embattled president, while boosting Gore's presidential ambitions and fueling speculation about a possible New York Senate bid by Mrs. Clinton.

But none of the visitors mentioned any of that during the time spent in Buffalo. Clinton concentrated on State of the Union proposals, while Gore and the first lady set the stage. And that's why local officials justify the use of at least two dozen county and city employees who planned and executed the presidential visit.

County Commissioner of Environment and Planning, Richard M. Tobe -- County Executive Gorski's point man for the visit -- said initial efforts to pass off planning to the Democratic Party were rebuffed by the White House. It was a governmental affair, they decreed.

"Because of that, Dennis felt the use of government resources was more than appropriate -- it was an amplification of the State of the Union," Tobe said. "We were then proud and eager to help."

Tobe said Republicans were invited, GOP legislators received tickets to distribute, and the Democratic Party was treated like any other group in the planning.

"It depends upon the eyes with which you saw it," he said of the event's interpretation. "I've spoken to many people who were just blown away to see a president and hear a policy-level speech."

White House spokeswoman Julie Goldberg said the trip was, indeed, governmental in nature and was therefore financed out of the White House travel budget. While she would not elaborate, others say the costs were substantial.

The cost of renting and setting up the arena, according to sources familiar with the process, hovers around $40,000. And there was a White House chef and a large-scale catering operation, installation of more than 200 telephone lines, the stage setup, a stage backdrop estimated to cost "thousands of dollars," flowers, private security and other matters.

"There are all kinds of issues they have to face for something like this," said Ron Bertovich, executive vice president of the Buffalo Sabres and Marine Midland Arena. He and Stan Makowski, director of operations, also had to provide for the 21,790 people who showed up -- the largest crowd in the arena's history.

Those familiar with staging what some call one of the biggest one-day special events in area history say the manpower and financial requirements for staging such an affair are inherently huge. Add the fact that it involves the president and vice president, and it becomes almost astronomical.

Joe Slade White of East Aurora, a political consultant familiar with costs and operations of national campaigns, said the logistics of any presidential movement are so massive that huge costs become routine.

"Around here, we don't get many presidents visiting, so I suppose in the history of Buffalo, it could be one of the most expensive (one-time) events ever," White said. "But they wanted an indoor arena for the noise level and enthusiasm it would provide.

"And as a professional looking on, I have to say they did a really good job on this one," he added.

Then there was the massive police presence. Buffalo police assigned about 70 officers to the presidential detail, with most working eight to 12 hours overtime at an estimated cost of $30,000 to $40,000.

"There was an extraordinary commitment from the police community. I've never seen anything like it," said Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina.

According to Capt. Gerald Schoenle, most of the Buffalo officers were assigned to traffic control, security at and around the arena and in a dignitary detail accompanying the president.

"We also had a contingent of K-9 Corps officers with their dogs sniffing the arena, we had officers working in the Secret Service command post, and we had eight officers in our SWAT team ready to go from a nearby location," Schoenle said.

Chief John Battle of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Police assigned 60 officers to cover the dignitaries' arrival and departure from Buffalo Niagara International Airport -- about double the normal on-duty contingent -- with about half on overtime.

State Police Maj. Michael McManus said about 50 troopers guarded the route of the 37-vehicle motorcade, blocking exits on the Kensington Expressway and Thruway while the presidential motorcade passed.

The Erie County Sheriff's Department supplied bomb experts, snowmobile patrol deputies at the airport and a Secret Service liaison.

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