Mass. delegates ride Rocky Mountain high
DENVER — The mile-high gathering of the Democratic Party last week left Massachusetts delegates gasping for political air, unable in many cases to find the words to describe the impact of seeing the first African American win a major party’s nomination for the White House.
Ray Jordan, a former Springfield state representative attending his ninth Democratic National Convention, paused before comparing the thrill of working for Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm on the floor of the 1972 convention in Miami to what he witnessed in Denver.
“Never in my wildest dreams, as a delegate for Shirley Chisholm — ‘unbought and unbossed’ — did I think I’d see the day when an African American would be the party’s choice for president,” said Jordan, vice-chairman of the Democratic State Committee and a senior member of the Democratic National Committee. “I have to pinch myself to believe this is really happening — to really see that this day has come.”
For state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, a first-time delegate, the convention’s central drama was not so much Sen. Barack Obama’s ascension to the columned portico built on the 50-yard line of Invesco Field to accept the nomination, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s full embrace of her primary rival.
“Her speech was amazing,” said the Dorchester legislator. “She was exactly on point as to every reason why we should get behind Sen. Obama. She really made it clear why Sen. Obama represents exactly what she believes in and why we need to put our divisions behind us and elect him to the White House.”
Giovanna Negretti, executive director of ¿Oíste?, the Massachusetts Latino political organization, showed up at the Massachusetts delegation breakfast the morning after Clinton’s Pepsi Center speech with T-shirts printed with the message: “MA Latinos United for Obama.”
“I want to make sure that America understands that Latinos are united for Obama,” she said. “Most of our Latino delegates are for Clinton, but we’ve come together to move beyond the differences and win the White House.”
Newswoman Liz Walker, in Denver to film a campaign video for Women for Obama, roamed around the Massachusetts delegation much of the week, interviewing delegates with a handheld digital video camera. Last Friday, in the wake of Obama’s soaring rhetoric on the national stage, she said the mechanics of the convention had made a surprising impression on her.
“I didn’t expect to be so moved by the delegate roll call,” said Walker. “As the states, one by one, got up to cast their votes for Barack Obama, it suddenly became real, that an African American would be the nominee.”
For the Rev. Miniard Culpepper, a convention veteran going back to 1980, the tribute to U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on the opening night held special significance. He had worked for Kennedy in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and New York before heading to Madison Square Garden for the 1980 nomination fight against President Jimmy Carter.
“It was a very tough convention in the same way this one is, with all the tension between Hillary and Barack’s people,” said the Dorchester pastor, a member of the party’s credentials committee.
“Kennedy’s speech in New York — ‘the dream will never die’ — was the greatest speech he ever made. And Hillary’s speech was the best I’ve ever heard from her,” said Culpepper. “But what I learned in 1980 is that we have to do more to heal the divisions. All the right things were said in both speeches, but we know what we didn’t do in 1980. We didn’t embrace our brothers and sisters in the Carter camp the way we should have.