The Boston ‘D’ Party


By Norm Winick

I was going to write this article about how the terrorists had won – how the security in Boston was so tight that the Democratic Convention was a police state. Unfortunately, I can’t. The media got it wrong again. Security was no tighter than at any airport or even entering the Knox County Courthouse. It never took me more than a minute to get through one of the many lines and the metal detector. Conventioneers wearing a chest full of metal campaign buttons had to remove them but that was an affectation quickly unlearned.

Maybe, the exaggerations were because of the outward appearance of Boston; the city and its "Big Dig" boondoggle is a perpetual construction zone. There were barricades all over – mostly to keep cars from falling into the huge holes and tunnels exposed throughout downtown. There were also barricades on the narrow streets to create bus lanes for the shuttles to take delegates to the FleetCenter. The city did close I-93 which runs adjacent to the FleetCenter and the North Station which is at the same location. Those were probably overreactions but did not cause any problems. So many of the regular residents and commuters had vacated that there was no substantial extra traffic.

Driving around Boston was difficult – but I’ve been told it always is. Just as you think you’re getting somewhere, there’s a tunnel or a bridge and, soon, you’re in a new place on the other side of something.

Delegates found Boston far superior to the last convention in Los Angeles. "There’s a real city here," was a frequent comment. While the Illinois delegation was admittedly biased, they preferred Chicago of all the recent host cities. They really saw very little of Boston. Of all the delegates I talked to, only Knox County State’s Attorney Paul Mangieri and his wife Felicia said they did any sightseeing at all. "We walked a little of the ‘Freedom Trail.’" Everyone else said they were too busy with meetings and caucuses and parties to see much of the city – but they universally said they’d like to come back. Nobody said that about L.A.

The shuttle system in Boston worked well and all the convention hotels were close by. The major problem was the FleetCenter itself. It was hot and crowded. After the evening got going on Wednesday and Thursday, fire marshals closed the hall and no one could get in. They were right; the aisles were full and all the seats were full. The problems it created were many. A number of VIPs and many media persons were locked out. Actual delegates could not get off the floor to get a water or go to the bathroom because they couldn’t get back in either. Oops.

I looked for controversy and couldn’t find any. Right there in the Illinois delegation were all the feuding parties from Springfield and they were getting along famously. The angriest person I saw was Wolf Blitzer of CNN, furious that balloons and confetti kept landing on his coiffure . That was after bragging on the air for three days that CNN was the first news outlet to ever be allowed to broadcast from the floor of a convention.

The biggest atrocity was the cage called, euphemistically "The Free Speech Zone." Surrounded by double chain-link fences, and razor wire and covered with a netting, the few demonstrators were confined to this area underneath a highway overpass and adjacent to the bus loading area. Virtually ever delegate who wandered their way thought it was an embarrassment to the constitution to confine them that way.

On Thursday afternoon, when, probably out of boredom, some of the demonstrators (who were primarily demonstrating against the confining of the demonstrators) lit a sign on fire, dozens of police in riot gear quickly arrived. They stood in the hot sun for a while, moved to the shade, and then disbanded. That was as exciting as it got outside.

Inside, the convention went as scheduled. Unlike previous years, there were no scheduled floor demonstrations; there wasn’t any floor to be seen. The Guinness Book of World Records-setting balloon drop was the biggest snafu. The bags of balloon didn’t open on cue and it took nearly half an hour before they mostly all fell. The floor became a sprained ankle waiting to happen as everyone had to wade through waist-high balloons to try to find a way out.

Just another day in political nirvana.