GOP Takes Center Ring at Convention Circus

Convention Notebook

Madame Secretary, first Suffolk and Norfolk reports Steve Pierce: 64, Paul Cronin: 4, and Bill Weld: 85.

Loud cheers and strident air horns greeted the loudspeaker's latest announcement, as supporters of former U.S. prosecutor William F. Weld '66 celebrated victory--albeit temporary--over his rivals for governor at the state Republican convention.

But despite the jubilant sounds, Weld supporters had little reason to be pleased as the roll calls were sounded Saturday morning. By the end of the day, House Minority leader Steven D. Pierce would exit the convention with a resounding victory over Weld, establishing himself as the party favorite and a clear frontrunner for the September primary.

But the Republican party was the real winner of this weekend's convention, showing Massachusetts that although it has been excluded from the center ring of Beacon Hill for two decades, it can still put on quite a circus show--elephants and all.

Gold and silver elephants hung from the necklaces and charm bracelets of hundreds of delegates at the convention Saturday. Elephant pins adorned lapels, keeping ties squarely in place and collars fastened tightly closed. Delegates and candidates tossed stuffed elephants around the convention hall amid sculptured ice elephants, elephant hats, elephant earrings, elephant watches, elephants on sweaters, T-shirts, dresses, balloons and placards.

A large man in a grey elephant costume with campaign bumper stickers plastered over his ears, danced in front of a local TV camera crew, while Carol McPherson, a pro-choice delegate from the town of Spencer, criss-crossed the convention hall with a multi-colored stuffed elephant dangling from her neck. Committed to Weld, she handed out buttons and posted "Republicans for Choice" signs in the hall.

And Ray Shamie, the state GOP chief, sat on the dais presiding over the year's largest state Republican convention with a smart, but aptly conservative blue tie, dotted with--you guessed it--elephants.

First Essex and Middlesex, does anyone know... wait, microphone number three... are there any other holds? We have Frankliin and Hampshire that would like to be polled.

David K. Chivers, a shaggy-headed delegate from Lee and a member of the state committee, wiped the perspiration from his brow and refastened the Pierce button to his red suspenders. He had just finished tabulating the delegate vote from the Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire senate district. Weld won the district by nine votes, but Chivers was excited anyway.

"It's an activist atmosphere that this party hasn't seen in 20 years," Chivers yelled over the drone of the secretary's voice count. "I'm having a great time."

There is a polling request for the Suffolk and Middlesex district... That has not been challenged. First Suffolk Norfolk, microphone 18. Hampden and Hampshire, microphone seven.

After Pierce's nomination speech, members in the Berkshire delegation were caught in a crossfire from Pierce supporters who hurled small, red sponge balls imprinted with the Pierce logo through the hall. Trapped by the onslaught, they tried to fend off the attack with the red, white and blue Weld cushions adorning every seat.

When it was Weld's turn to speak, a large and silverheaded Weld supporter--slightly miffed about the sponge balls--whipped his styrofoam Dixie hat frisbee-style across the delegation. His target was a Pierce supporter who was waving a placard and chanting, "Steve, Steve." The Pierce supporter smiled back like a child who has just outwitted a younger sibling as the hat sailed far to his right.

As Weld's nomination speech boomed across the vast convention hall, an anti-abortion delegate jogged down the middle aisle with a tiny infant in pink pajamas upraised in his arms.

"Hey Bill, are you going to kill her too?" the heckler yelled. Weld, who has said he supports a woman's right to have an abortion, ignored the comment. But a host of Weld delegates surrounded the man with the baby and shouted him back into the crowd, as others looked on with indignation and disgust.