Friday, June 6, 2008

The Contenders

My personal encounters with Senators Obama and McCain.

This year the Democrats are gathering in Colorado to choose their nominee for President, but four years ago it was held in Boston, the hometown of the party's nominee, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry. If you were from Massachusetts it was the premier political gathering of most people's lifetime, and if you were at all a political junkie, of any political persuasion, you had to go and at least check out the scene.

I went with former City Councilor Mitch Ogulewicz. He had worked with Kerry early in the Senator's career as one of the Western Mass Co-ordinators of Kerry's Lieutenant Governor campaign, and so had snagged a coveted "Friend of John" pass to the convention which would put him in the seats reserved for those attending as Kerry's personal guests. I didn't have a pass at all, and the security was such that it was futile to even think of sneaking in, so I was just along for the adventure and otherwise just intended to head back to Western Mass when Mitch went inside.

That was supposed to give us most of the day to explore the political scene in Boston, but we soon heard a rumor in the late afternoon that the convention hall was filling up unexpectedly early and that as soon as the fire marshall decided the hall was full the entrances would be blocked no matter who was trapped outside. At the time we were outside historic Fanuel Hall where we had just had an encounter with Senator Ted Kennedy, and Mitch said he couldn't risk ignoring that rumor, so we began hurrying towards the convention site.



The night before, a young candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois had made an electrifying speech to the convention. The name of the young candidate was Barack Obama, and Mitch was telling me that this was someone that I should watch. I told him that no one with such a ridiculous name could make it in U.S. politics. Mitch kept insisting otherwise, and even went so far as to predict that Obama would be on the presidential ticket in 2008, at least as vice-president! I told Mitch he was talking like we had spent too much time in the whiskey and clam chowder bar we had gone to for lunch.

So there we were, walking towards the convention, when suddenly we sensed this commotion behind us. Coming into view was this long-legged black man, technically alone but trailed by photographers and fans. I didn't know who it was, but Mitch recognised him immediately and stepped forward to greet him. Then it dawned on me that this was the guy who had been on the front page of that morning's Boston Globe - the guy with the funny name.

My camera was in my knapsack. Had I rushed to do so, perhaps I could have gotten it out in time to capture a photo or two. However, you have to realize who Barack Obama was at that time. He had not yet even been elected to the Senate. He was essentially a local Chicago politician on the rise, and although the convention had made him the flavor of the day, there are many flavors between one election cycle and another. I didn't make the effort to get the shot, and that turns out to have been a terrible mistake. Here is a picture provided by Google of Obama taken on that walk.



I wuz robbed! That shoulda been my shot!

The person Obama will face off against for president this year is his fellow U.S. Senator John McCain. I went to a big McCain rally in Boston in the year 2000, and ironically it was also with Mitch Ogulewicz. McCain was seeking the Republican nomination against George W. Bush, and among his Western Mass co-ordinators for the Massachusetts primary was former (and future) Mayor Charles V. Ryan. It looked at the time as though McCain would win the nomination, and he did win the Massachusetts primary by a landslide margin. However when the campaign shifted to the southern states McCain was considered too liberal and eventually was forced out of the race. However, at that rally in Boston, it looked like victory was inevitable! Here is Mitch with Charlie Ryan, who was an attorney in private practice at the time, and between them is former (and future) First Lady of Springfield Joan Ryan.



The most remarkable thing about that rally was how close we were to the front. In fact there was no one standing in front of us but John McCain himself. I got some great pictures, as you can see, just by pointing my camera straight up. This shot captures McCain as he looks directly at me.



What was really crazy was that it was impossible for the local, national or international media to photograph or film the event without including Mitch and me in their frame of sight. Therefore we appeared everywhere, including C-SPAN, which ran and re-ran the speech for weeks, with people repeatedly telling me that they had spotted Mitch and me on national television right at McCain's feet.

So there you go, two men on their way to destiny and the ways in which they crossed my path, or more accurately, I crossed theirs. Now let's see which of the two becomes president in November.

When we used to go to Grateful Dead concerts we would call the kind of weird dancing many people did (not me) "twirling" because the only unifying dance move was a roundward motion. I gotta believe that is what this licence plate refers to.



A test of logic?



I dedicate this song to the government of Springfield.

1 comment:

schoolmarm said...

"spotted Mitch and I." Tom I cringe everytime you use I instead of me in the wrong place.
I am old English Major and spend a lot of time cringing when people do not use the I or me properly.

A good test is when you are writing is to leave out the other person. For instance, you would not say "spotted I," you would say spotted me.

I noticed this before but hestiated to mention it because you always use excellent grammar.