Democrats convened in Boston in 2004 to nominate John Kerry and John Edwards as their standard-bearers. Participants shared their recollections with National Journal. Edited excerpts follow.
During a layover en route to Boston, I got a call from a Kerry campaign delegate wrangler. He offered me the chance to sit on the stage during the speeches. All I needed to do was pass a background check, ditch the campaign buttons, avoid wearing white, curtail sudden movements, and be able to sit for long periods without access to a bathroom. I immediately saw publicity potential in the weirdness of being so excited to look at the back of famous peoples’ heads.
As happens at every convention, press outnumbered delegates at least two to one, and there was almost no controversy. In this environment of journalistic famine, a human prop can seem pretty interesting. My mom called our local TV news stations and got them to do stories back home. I was picked to blog for AOL News. The American Federation of Teachers set me up to do satellite feeds to local TV and radio outlets across the country. My local paper won an award for a story about me watching the balloon drop I’d dreamed of since I was 17. By the end of the week, I was doing interviews with Education Week.
I’m pretty sure 0.00032 percent of the Kerry vote was all me.
Governor of New Mexico
In the 2004 convention, I was appointed chair of the event and given a prime-time speech slot. Needless to say, I thought I was hot stuff. But I soon found out that as chair I had zero power and everything was scripted. At best I got good floor passes for friends and supporters. I did get some visibility during the proceedings, but only after a lot of coaxing with the convention staff, which runs the show to the chagrin of the biggest names in the party. For my prime-time speech, I prepared extensively and had some great lines written by top speechwriters. But there was one problem: Al Sharpton. He preceded me and went way beyond his allotted eight minutes. No one dared take him off the podium, as he electrified the world. Not only was I shoved out of prime time, but my speech was relegated to the den of forgettable tomes, especially after Sharpton’s soaring rhetoric. Oh well, it was still a fun convention, and I did have a car and driver courtesy of the DNC.
Senior adviser to John Kerry
That year the DNC made a big effort to get all these radio talk-show hosts at the convention—not just the progressive liberal talk-show hosts, but also the more conservative ones. One of the people from the DNC said, “You have to go to this.” Apparently the talk-show hosts had said, “We’ll take John Kerry, or this person, or Tad Devine.” Somehow I had gotten onto the list of acceptable people.
Before I go in, a DNC staffer said, “We want to warn you, it’s going to be really, really rough.” I went walking into this big ballroom in the Sheraton and I could see this was not a friendly crowd. I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what am I going to say to these people and how am I going to loosen them up?”
And then I see Arlene Violet, the former attorney general of Rhode Island. She was a Republican who had become a talk-show host. She was a former nun
and she had taught me in the eighth grade, at St. Michael School in Providence.
I said, “I’m particularly pleased to see Arlene Violet today.” A little applause came up. “I’ve known her since I was in grammar school.” I started to give a little talk about the Catholic values that I learned from people like her growing up and how that shaped me. Sister Arlene was a very convenient ally for me that day. And she said from the audience, “He was a great kid”—that was her shout-out. I used that as just a little armor.
There were some tough questions, but afterwards a person from the DNC said, “Oh my God, that was so much better we thought it was going to be.” I had a nun who taught me in grammar school that I used to make a little connection with the crowd. I think it’s an example of how at the convention, you’ve just got to scramble; you never know the tone of the room you’re going to walk into.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio
Unsuccessful presidential candidate
The Kerry campaign made my appearance before the convention contingent on two things. First, that I release my delegates and encourage them to support Senator Kerry. Which I did. Second, that I submit my speech to the convention to them for their review. Which I resisted.
The Kerry campaign heavily edited my convention speech. I protested and considered leaving the convention. Tense negotiations produced some references to the lies which took us into war, and how Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. My supporters were told not to display signs during my speech, but they did so anyway.
Boston police commissioner
It was the first presidential nominating convention since 9/11, so all eyes were on Boston. There were concerns about international terrorism, homegrown terrorists, known anarchists, and public-order challenges.
Experts predicted we would make up to 2,000 arrests, but we only arrested six people. We applied some of the new public-order techniques I saw emerge in Northern Ireland. Police there had concluded that routinely deploying police in riot gear will usually guarantee a riot. Police in ordinary uniforms should be deployed whenever possible—without helmets, shields, and long sticks. Riot police should be staged invisibly to respond quickly when required. Our three-tiered strategy worked extremely well. Police in ordinary gear were the norm on the DNC detail. When demonstrations heated up a bit, we moved to Tier Two—a mobile field force including a few dozen officers on mountain bikes.
At nine locations around the city, we had “tactical police,” fully equipped in all gear but invisible. The only time we used a tactical unit was on the final day of the convention, when demonstrators tried to cut through the fence line. The tactical force marched in, relieved the police in ordinary gear, defused the situation, and made a few arrests. As soon as they regained control, the tactical police marched out and were replaced again with ordinary police.
Brother of Sen. John Kerry
The night of the vice presidential speech was also the night of the roll call—where someone from each delegation announces its vote—and I was slated to cast the Massachusetts votes.
I was high up in the family booth at the Boston Garden to watch the vice presidential speech, and I started making my way down to the floor to join the Massachusetts delegation and cast the votes. About the time we’re just getting to the floor, the roll call begins. And I hear them call out, “Alabama,” and then “Alabama yields to Massachusetts.” Our floor manager made a last-minute deal, bumping my time slot up 20 minutes. So my staff and I did a flying wedge across the packed convention floor. Somewhere in that scrum, I lost a BlackBerry. When we got to the Massachusetts delegation, everyone was looking around anxiously, saying “Where’s Cam?” I grabbed the mic; there was a moment of dead air while I asked in an out-of-breath aside to my staff, “It’s 79 votes, right?” I then introduced myself and my sister and said that the two of us knew, as the people of Massachusetts knew, that when the going was tough, there was no one you could count on better than John Kerry. I was proud to cast those votes. But I came very close to missing that moment.