Monday, July 21, 2008
Sigh... Broke my heart.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Although the convention is still more than a month away, I thought I would start with an answer to a question that I get asked frequently: how does one get to be a delegate?
Having been involved in campaigns off and on for many years, I wondered about this question myself. As recently as a year ago, I still did not know anything other than that every four years I had the opportunity to vote for delegates when I voted in the Democratic primary, and it was almost entirely for people, of whom I had never heard. Note: Republicans in New York do not actually vote for their delegates, but Dems do. Very early on in the campaign I started to ask people who I thought would know, how might I become a delegate for Senator Obama? Those who knew something about the process told me two thing: first, "they will take elected officials over organizers every time," and second, "If you actually want to go, you need to back the person who will win - i.e., Senator Clinton." To this I politely replied that I did not want to be a delegate in the abstract, I wanted to be a delegate for Senator Obama.
Fortunately, their assertions turned out to be wrong on three counts: the Obama campaign was very good about rewarding grassroots organizers, Senator Clinton was not going to be the inevitable winner, and even if she had been, the Obama campaign still would have won some delegates, even in New York.
One of the arcane bits of work that needs to be done before a Presidential primary in New York state is petitioning to get your candidate on the ballot. In order to get this done, the campaign must mobilize volunteers in every congressional district to go out and get at least 500 valid signatures from registered Democrats only. This was done in November of '07, and Ken Preston and I helped lead that effort in the 25th Congressional District, with both of our groups helping some nearby districts as well.
As we prepared for this effort, I found the answer to my question. Jeff Berman, who ran the campaign's nationwide delegate selection process spent countless hours on the phone with people like Ken and myself, asking who might be good loyal supporters to put on the ballot for the Obama delegate slate in their districts. Joyce Johnson, who headed up the delegate process in New York State, also spent untold hours on the phone, at all hours, getting the details right, right up to the last minute. (At one point I was on the phone with her around midnight dealing with a crisis involving an incorrect address on the petitions.)
There were several criteria the campaign used to select delegates: by state law the delegate slate had to be balanced by gender, and the Democratic Party asked that each slate reflect the diversity of the area and the party. In addition to that, people who are well known and well regarded are thought to attract more votes to a candidate, by virtue of having their name on the same line as a supporter. This is why elected officials are often chosen - they presumably have enough supporters out there to make a difference.
In our case, because Senator Clinton had worked closely with almost every elected Democrat in the state, she had the early support of almost all of the elected officials here. There were some notable exceptions, like State Senator William Perkins, who endorsed Senator Obama way back in May of '07, and indeed he was rewarded with a spot as a delegate from Harlem.
In our case though, Ken and I forwarded names of people who we thought would represent the campaign well, and also who would be loyal enough to continue to vote for Senator Obama on second or third ballots if it came down to a brokered convention. Joyce took these suggestions, ordered them and forwarded recommendations to Jeff, with our names included. Our slate, as it was put on the ballot, included myself, Ken Preston, Thelie Selzer, who with her husband Jon had been (and continue to be) outstanding volunteers, Ralph Jones, who was an early supporter and who also serves on the executive board of the Onondaga County Democratic Committee, and Mary Nelson, who is a dynamo activist for youth in Central New York. She had invited the campaign in to her yearly "Back to School Barbecue," in which she has hundreds of volunteers give out school supplies to thousands of kids who need them. For those of you who don't know who Mary is, here she is featured on Regis and Kelly recently for her outstanding community work:
(In the video box on the right, select "Mary's story.")
So, when we went to pass petitions to get Senator Obama on the ballot in New York, those petitions also had each of our names on it as delegates. Having successfully gotten enough signatures, our five names were placed on the ballot next to Senator Obama's. I asked everyone I knew, who I thought might be able to vote in the primary, to consider voting for me as a delegate, and many of them told me that they had (thank you!).
When the voting was over, Senator Obama had won enough of the vote in our district to earn two of the five delegates from this area. I, and everyone else on the ballot, had to wait almost two full weeks to know which ones they would be. (The highest vote-getting female and the highest vote-getting male for each candidate get picked first, but we didn't know who that would be.)
It turned out that I had two advantages: my name was placed in the first position, and I was well known to many of Senator Obama's supporters in the area. Lest I get too impressed with myself, it turns out that having the first position on the ballot was probably all that was necessary - people tend to not know who the delegates are and just vote for the first couple.
After two weeks, I had an unofficial count from the Board of Elections, but the election was not certified, and I was superstitious enough to not want to tell people yet. But, after it was printed in the paper, I decided that was good enough and bought my
After that article, the congratulations and advice started to roll in - "wear confortable shoes," "bring buttons to trade," and my favorite, from one of my former Maxwell School history professors: "First find out where the bathrooms are in the convention center. All else is secondary."
Eventually, the election results really were certified, Ken and I were officially notified, and the campaign started to work with their delegates to make sure everyone knew what they needed to know, booked what they needed to book, and had a few chances to get to know each other...
I set up this blog as a place to write about my experiences representing the 25th district at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August 25th through the 28th. My counterpart from the Rochester end of the district is Ken Preston, who has been a lead organizer in Rochester for the campaign, and will also be going to Denver as an elected delegate. Hopefully I can persuade him to take the time to make a few entries as well, while we are there.
For a little background on me and my involvement in the campaign, in February of 2007, I founded the group "Syracuse for Obama," a grassroots group of supporters and volunteers for the campaign in the Central New York area. Since then, this group has grown to over 650 members. Note: Anyone interested in joining the campaign and hearing about volunteer opportunities in this area, should visit the group's page on the my.barackobama.com site (shortcut here: www.syracuseforobama.com), and click to join the group.