Capital Region Democrats hope, expect convention will be unifying

Some Democrats are a bit concerned. Is Bernie Sanders going to pull a Ted Cruz?
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on stage, beside Congressman Paul Tonko and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, at Cohoes High School during her visit for a Capital Region Organizing Event on Monday afternoon, April 4, 2016.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on stage, beside Congressman Paul Tonko and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, at Cohoes High School during her visit for a Capital Region Organizing Event on Monday afternoon, April 4, 2016.

Some Democrats are a bit concerned. Is Bernie Sanders going to pull a Ted Cruz?

The political focus across the country switches from the Republicans to the Democrats this week, and while the Vermont Senator has officially endorsed Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee, just how enthusiastic Sanders will be when he speaks tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is up for debate. No one, however, is expecting anything resembling Cruz’s flat out refusal to endorse Donald Trump during his speech at the Republican Convention last Wednesday.

“I’m very optimistic and enthusiastic, and I think what you’re going to see is a basically a discussion of ideas, in sharp contrast to what I had been watching all week,” said Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. “We’ll have a conversation about the challenges that face us as a great nation, and we’re going to talk about how to continue to respond to those challenges and grow stronger.”

Along with Cruz’s non-endorsement speech, Tonko was also alluding to a Monday night scene on the convention floor in Cleveland when a number of Colorado delegates walked out after a group of states failed to force a state-by-state roll call vote over the rules of the convention. While some Sanders’ supporters are claiming they still won’t support Clinton in November, delegate Heather Spitzberg of Slingerlands doesn’t expect any histrionics this week.

“I don’t believe that there’s going to be any real drama like we saw at the Republican Convention,” said Spitzberg, an avid supporter of Sanders. “There are going to be things we disagree on, like TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] and fracking, but I don’t think you’re going to see any delegations walking out or that sort of thing. I haven’t heard of any grand plans like that.”

Sanders supporters are also unlikely to feel too good about Clinton’s choice as her running mate. Late Friday night, the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state picked U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, to be her vice-presidential candidate.

“He supports the TPP, yet another disastrous trade deal, and wants to further deregulate banks and financial institutions,” said Schenectady’s Josephine Moore, another Sanders delegate from the 20th District. “That’s what led to our 2008 economic crisis. I understand her reasoning, but I think it’s based on this myth of centrist politics, that’s where the voters are. But America right now does not adhere to the political rules of the past two decades. I think Clinton’s choice of Kaine demonstrates that she just does not really see that.”

Like Spitzberg, however, Moore doesn’t see anything outlandish happening this week in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think any Democrats are going to plagiarize their speeches,” said Moore, referring to Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican Convention last week, in which she seemed to quote in part directly from Michele Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention, “and I don’t think you’re going to see any riots or anything like that. I don’t see anyone walking out. But the Democratic Party is not unified. There are going to be protests outside, and inside Bernie’s delegates are going to continue to communicate to our party’s leaders that we want TPP stopped, and we want more aggressive action on climate change.”

Moore and Spitzberg are going to their first national convention, as are Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Albany County Executive Dan McCoy. Both are Clinton delegates, and don’t see things precisely the way Sanders’ supporters do.

“I’m not sure what to expect, but I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to participate in the approval of the platform,” said Sheehan. “The Democratic Party is a big tent and people are going to disagree. Even at our own county committee meetings we have disagreements that can be vocal. But I think all of our underlying principles are the same. We want to make college tuition affordable, we want to raise the level of education in our inner cities. We want to provide more financial equity for the middle class. Those are challenges that we can all work together on.”

McCoy, a long-time supporter of Clinton, said Sanders’ supporters can be happy that their voice has been heard.

“I think we will unify, especially after watching the Republican Convention,” he said. “I’m in full support of Hillary, but I think Bernie and his delegates have changed the platform. They wanted to be heard and they will be. But we’re at the point now where we should all rally around our candidate. We have to because we have to make sure we win.”

While liberals and progressives may not be happy with Kaine as the vice-presidential candidate, mainstream Democrats such as Tonko fully endorsed the former Virginia governor and past chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“Senator Kaine has a proven record of fighting for the middle class and those struggling to enter it, and Secretary Clinton made a good choice from a deep bench of leaders in the Democratic Party as her running mate,” Tonko said in a statement issued Saturday. “I look forward to hearing from both at the Democratic Convention about their plans to move the nation forward and build upon the progress we’ve made in the last eight years.”

Tonko, an unpledged superdelegate who has long supported Clinton, added that the Democratic Party is well-positioned to do well overall on Election Day.

“Our job in November is not only to keep the White House, but to take back the Congress,” he said. “With progressive giants like Senator Sanders, [Elizabeth] Warren and [Sherrod] Brown as leaders of a Democratically led Senate next year, the future fills us with hope.”

Spitzberg wasn’t involved politically until listening to Sanders last summer. Despite the fact her candidate didn’t win the nomination, she considers the effort she put into it over the last 12 months well worth it.

“I am very discouraged and disappointed with this outcome,” she said. “But I have met so many tremendous people in the past year, at a time when a lot of people were very pessimistic about the state of the country, that now I am optimistic about the future. There are plenty of people out there who want the best for everybody, and we’re going to continue to work toward that.

“Overall, the experience has been great and it’s because of Bernie Sanders,” added Spitzberg. “If he hadn’t been involved, someone like me would not be going to a national convention. I think that’s amazing, and I’m honored to be a Bernie delegate. It’s great that someone like me and other people like me are part of the process.”

Sanders will deliver a speech in prime time tonight at the convention, as will first lady Michelle Obama and Astrid Silva, a prominent immigration reform activist. The theme of tonight’s program is “United Together.” Former President Bill Clinton and “Mothers of the Movement” are scheduled to speak Tuesday, and President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will deliver short addresses Wednesday night. On Thursday, the final night of the convention, Clinton will offer her acceptance speech after being introduced to the delegates by her daughter, Chelsea.

“I know there are some Democrats who have a visceral, and what I think is an irrational reaction to Hillary Clinton,” said Sheehan. “I think she’s been unfairly vilified and held to a higher standard than other candidates. Her every move has been scrutinized in a way I haven’t seen for male candidates. But I think we’re going to achieve unity because this campaign is about the future of our country. We need to come together and work on our many challenges, and as passionate as Bernie supporters are, I’m confident we will come together and unify under one candidate.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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