Volume 21, Number 16 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Aug. 29 - Sept. 4, 2008

Downtown Notebook

Oh, what a night! A dispatch from the Denver D.N.C.

By Arthur Z. Schwartz

I came to Denver with a cynical view of big meetings like this. They are carefully scripted and there will be no hint of a floor fight or debate about anything. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Community Board 2; I’d like to see a debate about gay marriage, or about the party plank that says that we must win the war in Afghanistan. Within the Obama network (see mybarackobama.com) there is plenty of debate, and sometimes Obama himself joins in. But Democratic Party events just lack that spirit of challenging authority.

I brought that cynicism into Monday night’s opening session, where I was handed signs to hold up at appropriate moments; but soon my cynicism ended. First, the video about the Kennedys got to me. My earliest memories about politics came flooding back to me: little John and Caroline standing at their father’s funeral; the excitement generated by Bobby Kennedy and his challenge to the party leaders; standing in line for five hours to view R.F.K.’s body at St. Patrick’s. The clips, and Ted Kennedy’s speech, reminded me about the promise of Barack Obama, and his ability to craft a campaign out of hopes and dreams, and a willingness to take on the party leaders. And when Ted Kennedy appeared, I have to admit that I choked up, partly with thoughts about the battles he has led but which continue.

Then Michelle Obama spoke. I have said many times before that time spent on politics is worthwhile only because it will help make the lives of my children better. My two college kids called just before her speech to check in, and my two little ones were tucked into their beds about two miles from where Michelle spoke. And she brought home what politics can be about. About getting what our children need: schools, parks, a clean environment, a world at peace. Even more important — for me, as the father of three daughters — she made it clear that this election will be about breaking through barriers, about saying that it is possible for any child to achieve what she dreams about achieving.

Plenty of Downtown folks are here in Denver. State Senator Tom Duane is the parliamentarian for the New York delegation and sits on the stage at all delegation events with the big shots. We are also represented here by Congressman Jerry Nadler, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, City Council Speaker Chris Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (who is openly “joking around” about running for mayor, but who has not made a decision), Assemblymember Deborah Glick, East Village activist supreme Howard Hemsley and me. Liz Abzug, still a Downtown figure, is a delegate, too. Transgender activist Melissa Sklarz, still an honorary Villager, is on the Rules Committee, and is in the mix everywhere, as is gay activist Corey Johnson. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh is here, as is State Committee Member Rachel Lavine.

The convention takes place in the evenings from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., with lots of breakfasts, lunches and “after parties” before and after. Lots of political business gets done here, none of it in the open. The mayoral hopefuls seem to be the center of significant attention, although the floor is abuzz with conversation about the term-limits law being extended, which would leave (so the incumbents hope) everyone in place.

The convention demonstrates divisions between the newcomers — those elected as part of the Obama campaign — and the party regulars. Nowhere is this dichotomy more apparent than in the New York delegation, where Obama delegates complain about being treated like second-class citizens. Except for those who hold elected office, they are having problems getting convention hall passes for their significant others, getting tickets to parties, etc. The problem really is that New York caters to elected officials and to insiders, like lobbyists and big donors. The extent to which the New York Democratic Party embraces these newcomers, and makes them feel welcome, will have a profound impact on Democratic politics in New York City over the next few years, all the more so if Barack Obama gets elected. Stay tuned.

Arthur Z. Schwartz is the male state Democratic committee member representing the Village, Soho and Tribeca and is a Democratic National Convention delegate for the Eighth Congressional District.

 




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