Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Democratic Convention opens in Denver
Denver -- The Democratic National Convention has returned to Denver after 100 years, but this time the whole world is watching.
Just about all of those attending are agreed that the stakes are much greater in this election year than they were in 1908. Certainly the numbers involved at the convention are considerably greater.
Fifteen thousand local, national and international members of the media are attending; 26,000 local volunteers are helping with convention events; 4,500 delegates are participating, and for every delegate, one can factor in at least four more family members, friends and party supporters who've turned up to be part of this uniquely American spectacle.
But the most important figure is 75.000 - the number of people expected to hear Senator Barack Obama accept the Democratic nomination
on Thursday night for the presidency of the United States, thus becoming the first-ever African-American candidate for either of the major parties in the nation's history.
Meanwhile, ahead of Senator Hillary Clinton's keynote address on Tuesday evening, the New York delegation was putting its best foot forward at three packed events at Denver's Sheraton Hotel.
There was little post-primary tension evident at an early Sunday evening function held in honor of the speaker of New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver. The party atmosphere continued directly afterwards when Gov. David Paterson was in the spotlight.
The next morning Clinton herself was the guest of honor at a New York State Democratic Party breakfast, where she gave every indication that she was committed to victory in November. Before that, however, Silver kicked off the Sheraton breakfast predicting "we're are going to hear speeches [during Convention week] that will be recited for years to come.
"It's time for an extreme makeover at the White House," he added to enthusiastic applause. Then the Assembly speaker introduced the other U.S. senator for New York as a "Brooklyn boy done good."
Senator Charles Schumer said that his fellow senator led a "wonderful struggle that broke so many glass ceilings." He referred to the great racial and ethnic diversity of the New York Democratic Party and also to the fact that though the faithful was divided during the primary season, it was now united around Barack Obama. He said that Clinton was the "person who will lead the charge to take back America."
Clinton appeared finally to a rapturous reception and listed the reasons why the Republican Party should not be allowed to retain control of the White House. She then attacked the GOP ads that pitted her against Obama. She said: "I'm Hillary Clinton and I do not approve of this message."
The gathering was one of a number of events based around the convention, one of them being a reception hosted by the lobby group Irish American Demcorats.
As was the case with Clinton, another rapturous reception greeted ailing Senator Ted Kennedy when he spoke to the convention Monday night. Kennedy was introduced to the crowd waving Kennedy placards by his niece, Caroline Kennedy. In her remarks she made particular note of her uncle's efforts to end apartheid in South Africa and bring peace to Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile if the Democratic Party is using the convention to market itself, so inevitably is Denver. And two young Irish-American women raised in the Midwest and recently transplanted to the Colorado city are helping with the effort. Susan Brake promotes the Metropolitan Denver Economic Development Corporation.
The Cincinnati, Ohio, native Brake, whose family name is McGarr, relocated to the city in 2007 with her husband. She described the atmosphere in the city over recent days as "electric." Brake said that Coloradoans hoped that visitors would get a taste of the state and come back for more. One of the things that the Metropolitan Denver Economic Development Corporation wishes to promote is the city's $7 billion mass transit project, the sort of endeavor not associated with Western cities generally.
St. Paul, Minnnesota-raised Caitlin Sullivan, who works with Colorado Tourism, said that the state is ideal for those who "want to pursue an active, outdoors lifestyle." Nonetheless Sullivan added that when she and her boyfriend get married they intend to go to Ireland for their honeymoon.
[Photo: Dubliner Nuala McGovern, executive producer of WNYC's influential "The Brian Lehrer Show," with the host Brian Lehrer at Denver's Sheraton Hotel.]