Tedski’s convention memories – Part 2, Balloon Drop

J Ross BrowneI was going to wait to do a second post until my brother posted. He’s been negligent and I won’t pay him for the week.

One of the examples of some of the silliness that goes on at conventions is the traditional balloon drop. In 1996, the drop became more interesting for one Arizona delegate.

Michael Crawford, who would later serve on the Tucson City Council, was a delegate that year. Crawford has a degenerative muscle disease that has confined him to a wheelchair as long as I’ve known him. The Arizona delegation that year was up in the upper rows of the United Center, which were not very accessible for him. An arrangement was made for Crawford to be able to watch the convention with the Ohio delegation, who had a place on the floor.

The balloon drop came. I don’t know if it was unusually big or not, but Crawford, lower to the ground and not very mobile, got buried in balloons. As he disappeared under the balloons, panicky Ohio delegates struggled to pop them to free him.

In the mean time, Crawford told me later, he thought the whole thing was funny. He didn’t know that the delegates were trying to free him.

Side note: that year, the venue that the Republicans had their convention in had too short a ceiling for a drop. They arranged for a way to release them from various locations on the floor.

Tedski’s Convention Memories, Part 1

J Ross BrowneWhat, you think that I’m going to let my brother take this place over? I’m still paying for the web space here, goldurnit. Plus, it’s my lunch break.

Tonight will be a speech by Arizona’s own Raúl Grijalva, who had a prominent role this year as one of the few congressional endorsers of Bernie Sanders’s campaign. This prominence has induced an epidemic of dyslexia among our national media, which manifests itself in some rather confounding pronunciations of his name.

(Memo to Rachel Maddow: It’s Ra-OOL Gree-HAL-Vah. Not that hard.)

Raúl’s first appearance before a national convention was back in 2004. That year, he was extensively courted by the John Edwards campaign, but he chose to go with Howard Dean owing to his strong identification with opposition to the war in Iraq. Despite Raúl’s work on behalf of Dean, Edwards had Raúl give his nomination speech for Vice President.

We in the Arizona delegation were all holding up Grijalva signs, even though I think a couple of delegates from Phoenix didn’t know who he was since he was still relatively new. Grijalva gets up there to speak, and as he got out his first words, he stumbled and seemed a bit confused.

I felt bad for him, even though he gave a pretty rousing speech after that, echoing Edwards’s “two Americas” theme and asking “where’s the compassion?” It was only weeks later that I found out a bit of the back story on the speech’s opening.

Raúl had a hard hitting speech written, but it was kiboshed by the Kerry campaign. After all the edits, he ended up with a rather dull recitation of pre-approved talking points. He went up to the podium to give the speech, he started reciting the first line and looked up to realize that his original speech was the one in the TelePrompTer. He was a bit startled at first, but happily read the speech he wanted to give in the first place.

The way I got this story is a reminder to me of sometimes how little you know about the back stories while you are in the convention hall. Sometimes the big stories are hard to find out about too while you are in the delegate bubble. My brother wrote about the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In this age of ready social media, that stuff can get out to delegates quickly. But it wasn’t long ago that it was actually harder to get news in the hall than outside.

In 1992, I was an usher at the convention. My job was to stand at the entrance to a large hospitality suite and only let congressman, senators, governors, big city mayors in with one, yes sir we said one, guest in. I got to find out two things at that time: how many governors and mayors think they needed a phalanx of their own armed security with them in a hospitality suite surrounded by Secret Service, DC Capital Police and NYPD, and that DNC staff, at that time anyway, didn’t count Phoenix as a “Big City.” I still remember a couple of people turning away a confused Paul Johnson.

I chatted with Secret Service and other volunteers, usually about bad encounters with politicians. But, I didn’t hear much news. On Thursday, Ross Perot dropped out of the Presidential race. It was the biggest political news of the day. It would have been the talk of everyone, right? Especially in a gathering of half of the most addicted of political junkies in the country.

Me? I only found out about because they gave two of us a break and told us we could go into the suite and watch Bill Clinton’s acceptance speech. In the speech, Clinton dropped a quickie line about welcoming Perot’s supporters. I turned to the other volunteer.

“Did he drop out?”

He shrugged. I didn’t know for sure until I picked up one of the free “convention special” editions of National Journal on the way out.

Tom’s Convention Diary, Day 0: Tony Award Winners Dressed Like Mark Lindsay

Kicks just keep getting harder to find.
Kicks just keep getting harder to find.

Due to popular demand, I will be temporarily reviving this here blog for the duration of the Democratic National Convention. For those who do not know, I was elected as a delegate for Senator Sanders back in the Spring. I arrived in Philadelphia late yesterday afternoon, when I was greeted by Lin-Manuel Miranda dressed up as Mark Lindsay.

The big news materialized some time while I was in the air en route to the City of Brotherly Battery Throwing from Tucson, so I got to hear about it when I landed: Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be resigning effective at the end of this week.

It should be made clear that Wasserman Schultz’s resignation at this point is largely symbolic. The nomination having been secured by Secretary Clinton, day-to day operations at the Democratic National Committee will be taken over by her people and she would have largely been a figurehead anyway. However, this was a demand by Senator Sanders,’ and shows a recognition that the party as an institution recognizes that her approach was a problem. This is the first of the twelve steps.

According to the teevee news in the hotel lobby this news has thrown the Convention “into chaos.” I suspect that this is just an effort to make a story where none exists, as this has not been my experience so far. The reactions I have heard from my admittedly small sample of delegates range from shrugs to jubilation, even from Clinton’s supporters whom one would expect to feel differently. I was surprised to hear one longtime Arizona Democratic stalwart who had reason to know what he was talking about, a Clinton supporter from day one who was still trying to dissuade me from supporting Sanders, dissing the chairwoman as unlikeable. Clearly, there are a lot of people who are less than impressed with her outside of those of us on the left who she worked so hard to dismiss and insult.

It should de made clear that I do not think that the emails support the contention that the primaries were “fixed” by the DNC. Having worked to build support among constituencies all over the country for decades, Senator Clinton had every possible advantage in her quest for the nomination. That Sanders was able to organize a credible challenge that gave her a significant scare speaks to the power of his message and his ability to mobilize supporters. At best, if these DNC staffers did what they talked about, it would have been gratuitous and unnecessary. Nonetheless, what came out is pretty damning about attitudes toward the Democratic rank and file at the DNC and does not speak well of her leadership.  Even former DNC chair Terry MacAuliffe, whose approach to politics is much closer to Wasserman Schultz’s than Sanders, said on NPR that he would never have tolerated  this sort of behavior among his staff during his tenure.

It is unlikely that this resignation would have happened without at least the tacit approval of the President and Secretary Clinton, so there seems to be broad recognition that Wasserman Schultz’s approach was not necessarily well-suited to building the coalition necessary to win this election. Clearly, there is much more to this job than fundraising prowess and the ability to passionlessly repeat talking points on MSNBC.