As a first-time delegate
to a state political convention, I found the recent Democratic
event in Worcester to be great theater and terrific fun.
energy, color, noise and even element of suspense in the cavernous
Centrum Centre hall were contagious. The rhetoric, often overblown,
still was somehow inspiring.
good people delivering a political message that hewed to the traditional
Democratic Party principles of a helpful, caring government more
concerned for those members of society who have been overlooked
or left behind rather than for those who are doing just fine.
I came home somewhat fatigued,
yet energized by what I had witnessed even though in the end the
convention was a total waste of time and resources for most of
the candidates and their elected delegates.
When all was said and done, the
convention cleared the way for all five candidates for governor
to have their names on the September primary ballot; likewise
for three of the four candidates for lieutenant governor and all
four candidates for state treasurer.
convention has as its goal to make choices, to winnow candidates
in order to prepare for the upcoming test against the Republican
Shannon O’Brien ultimately got more than 50 percent of the delegates
to secure the party’s official endorsement as its gubernatorial
candidate, she will have to share the primary ballot with four
the race for governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer absolutely
nothing was settled by the convention.
had been no back-room deals, which involved swapping of delegates,
only three candidates would have gained a place on the primary
ballot - O’Brien, Senate President Thomas Birmingham and Robert
Reich, to whom I was committed as a Ward 7 delegate from Northampton
as a result of February’s party caucuses. That would have offered
real choices to Democrats in the primary.
Tolman, the self-professed candidate of principle and Clean Elections
advocate, or Steven Grossman, former national Democratic Party
Chairman, simply did not have enough delegates on their own to
earn a place on the primary ballot. So they cooked up a transparent
deal - trading delegates on succeeding ballots - which enabled
each to reach the threshold for a spot in the September primary.
Tolman’s deal-making was particularly odious, given the Mr. Clean
outsider image that he has cultivated. It was clear that Tolman
and Grossman formed the alliance with the specific aim of undermining
the Reich candidacy, even though Reich earned his spot on the
primary by going out and corralling the requisite number of delegates
through hard work and grassroots organization.
As a consequence,
Democratic voters will face a hopelessly crowded ballot in September
for the three top constitutional offices which can only benefit
the Republicans and their sole gubernatorial candidate, Mitt Romney.
Romney, most the candidates in their speeches at the convention
seemed obsessed with him, devoting a disproportionate amount of
time to criticizing or belittling him. The conventional wisdom used
to be that you don’t mention your opponent by name because that
only enhances his stature. If that’s true, during their deliberations,
the Democrats raised Romney to mythic proportions.
The vast majority
of the 7,000 to 8,000 delegates attended the Saturday session, while
fewer were on hand for the Friday night proceedings, which showcased
some of the heroes of Massachusetts Democratic politics. Former
Gov. Michael Dukakis, who I still much admire, spoke briefly and
there were substantial retrospective looks at previous conventions
and personalities, especially the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, whose
widow, Nicole, spoke movingly about her husband. There were repeated
video images of the young Ted Kennedy played on the giant screens
flanking the podium, and when he appeared in person to speak on
behalf of Sen. John Kerry, who was nominated without opposition
for another US. Senate term, the hall erupted.
I have always sensed a certain sadness about Teddy, despite his
bravado. After the assassination his two older brothers, he had
to shoulder a heavy political burden to continue the family legacy.
As a person, Teddy was badly flawed and not up to meeting the
expectations and demands imposed on him. Still, he has persevered
and survived, and, through hard work, emerged as a productive
and valuable senator. His speech was pure Teddy, solidly liberal
and delivered with passion. Kerry’s acceptance speech, on the
other hand, seemed pitched to a national, rather than local, audience
as if he were warming up for a presidential quest.
icons of liberalism made me feel more at home with this party,
in contrast to the right-wing Democratic Party that Bill Clinton
shaped during his presidency.
sit in designated sections that conform to state Senate districts,
a sense of community prevails within a delegation. For example,
Sen. Stan Rosenberg was much in evidence for those of us sitting
in the Hampshire Franklin section, where he visited and politicked
with friends and constituents from Hampshire county towns and
from Franklin County communities as well. If you looked around,
over there was U.S. Rep. John Olver, and there was Mayor Clare
Higgins, and former Mayor Mary Ford, who, as teller, was in charge
of counting the votes for each of the ballots. Lisa Baskin of
Leeds was indefatigable in working the delegation for that extra
vote on each succeeding ballots for her candidate, Shannon O’Brien,
as was Register of Deeds Marianne Donohue.
I also ran
into a few ghosts from the past, including Peter Arlos, a long-time
political operative from Pittsfield, who was head of the Democratic
Committee in that city when I was a young reporter at the Berkshire
Eagle in the early 1960s. We chatted briefly this time about the
Reich candidacy which he was supporting. Also, I bumped into the
legendary political reporter and syndicated columnist from the
Washington Post, David Broder, who I last had met in 1966 in Chicago
when he was covering the Senate race involving the late Sen. Paul
Douglas, for whom I was working.
A final thought:
the party hierarchy has to figure out a way to rationalize the voting
process, or run the risk of the results not being accepted as valid.
The current process is primitive, time-consuming and chaotic, similar
to the din and mayhem that characterizes transactions carried out
on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Saturday’s voting took so long that it stretched way into the
night, with the result that most delegates headed home, as I did,
well before the convention ended. It took just shy of two hours
for the voting and counting of the first ballot for governor,
and then there were two more ballots, plus balloting for two other
to make the vote count verifiable and true is all the more urgent
in light of the election results in Florida in the 2000 presidential
process can’t be computerized but no one on hand for the voting,
especially someone new to the process, could guarantee that the
count as either efficient or accurate.
So how did
I enjoy my experience as a delegate to a state political convention?
Great, I thought it was just great, even though the convention
did not accomplish anything other than to make politics interesting
once more. Maybe that’s what a convention is supposed to do.