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I Was A Twentysomething FRINGE DELEGATE

By Jason M. Solomon

I was a fringe candidate once. A Larry Agran getting little respect. A Tom Laughlin stepping from the movies to the stump.

Now the American Dream says that any-one can grow up to be President. Some dispute this claim, but the bigger question is, can anyone grow up to be a delegate to the Massachusetts state Democratic Party issues convention?

Last Saturday hard-core Massachusetts Democrats gathered across the state in caucuses to pick delegates to the state issues convention. With little clue of what I was doing or what I was fighting for, I mounted a drive for the delegateship.

The woman at the Democratic party headquarters gave some invaluable advice when she learned of my quest.

"Make sure you go early," she told me. "And schmooze."

Ward Eight's caucus was at the Peabody School on Linnanean St. The secretary, an elderly woman, and the treasurer, an older man, of the Ward 8 Democratic Committee were sitting quietly at a table when I walked in the front entrance.

I immediately announced my intentions.

"I would like to run to be a delegate," I proclaimed.

No microphones were thrust in my face. The crowd didn't go wild.

The Ward 8 voters declined to turn out in droves for this caucus. There were eleven of us. If you've got six fingers, you could count them on two hands.

It was time for shaking hands and kissing babies. At least shaking hands. Make a favorable impression: earnest, young man who just wants to help Massachusetts' future.

I introduced myself to one man, David Osborne, who was gathering signatures for State Sen. Michael Barrett's (D-Cambridge) reelection campaign. Told him who I was and asked him to consider voting for me as delegate. He said he would definitely consider it. Little did I know that Osborne would emerge as my biggest political foe. First political lesson: you never know who your friends are in politics.

Met another man--an older guy who handed me his business card at the end of our conversation. A lawyer and a real nice character. He was interested in talking about politics, and so was I. So we talked for a while.

But I forgot that the caucus would begin in just a few minutes. I forgot that this man was just one vote. I forget the politician's duty to shake everyone's hand in the room. Big mistake.

We sat down to begin the nominations. Phyllis, the chair, sketchily explained the rules. Everyone there besides me seemed to know each other and be veterans of this process. I straightened my tie and tried to look worthy.

Now for the political types. The rising politician in Attorney General Harshbarger's office was nominated, as was Osborne, Sen. Barrett's former staffer and current campaign worker.

And me. Lansing, a Harvard alum, offered to do the nominating, and I was just happy to find a way on the ballot.

Now to present myself. A one-minute speech. It has to be perfect--sweeping rhetoric, hard substance, and a personal appeal--all in 60 seconds. I took a deep breath and looked around the room.

"It is important that the Democratic Party transmit its ideals from generation to generation.."

Oh God, I must sound stupid. And selfimportant...even ridiculous.

The ballots were collected, and the results were announced. One man elected; three, including me, tied for the two remaining spots.

"We're going to have to vote again," Phyllis sighed.

Another vote...another man elected. Still two left in the battle for the final slot, and one of them was me.

"Now only vote for one," said Phyllis.

I asked to make a second statement.

"I just want to say that the Democratic Party is in trouble. White youths especially are flocking to the Republican Party, and it's up to us to stop this trend."

The final count was made.

"David Osborne was elected," The chair announced. "He won by one vote."

Phyllis looked sadly down at the table toward me.

"Maybe we can make a deal," Lansing whispered to me across the table. "I may not even go."

"You can still go as an alternate delegate," Phyllis offered sympathetically.

She didn't need to worry. Already, I had advanced farther then I ever could have dreamed a few hours earlier.

But I had been betrayed by the person who had occupied most of my schmoozing time--my lawyer-friend. He must have felt guilty because he came up to me afterward to explain his decision.

"I changed my vote at the last minute," he explained. "I just thought that it should go to the person who had been around longer."

Ageism at worst, but today an alternate, tomorrow a full-fledged delegate.

I walked back with a few of my loyal supporters. They encouraged me to join the Ward 8 Democratic Committee. Get more young people involved.

"Just don't bring a bunch of students and try to take over," advised Lansing, who said that he has long lobbied for more student participation. "My credibility will be ruined."

No one was anything to worry about. I won't bring a bunch of rabble-rousing students to the caucus. After all, I've got civic responsibility now. I'm an alternate delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Party issues convention.

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