The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Stalking Teddy

My Convention Capers

It is almost impossible to live your whole life in Western Massachusetts and never have been in the presence of Ted Kennedy (above with Charles V. Ryan in 1965). I saw him marching in parades and from a distance at political events where he spoke, but the closest I ever got to Kennedy personally was the time during the 2004 Democrat Convention in Boston when I met him coming out of a back door behind Fanuel Hall. Here is an excerpt from my coverage of that convention which includes my encounter with Kennedy.

No matter what your political persuasion, the 2004 Democrat Party convention in Boston was a major event. In fact it was probably the most important political event ever held in Massachusetts during the lifetime of most people now living. There have been bigger and better national conventions, but they were not held in Boston, so to us Massachusetts political junkies this was like the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards rolled into one. So despite the fact that I wouldn't vote for John Kerry or John Edwards for dogcatcher, let alone president, I decided I must go.

In this quest I faced many obvious disadvantages. For one thing there was the post-9/11 security. Just four years ago, when people talked about "convention security" they were referring to keeping bums and pickpockets out and making sure the drunken delegates didn't get too rowdy. Anybody with the right combination of schmooze and chutzpa could probably manage to get inside and stay there as long as they behaved themselves. But those days are long-gone, perhaps forever. Security at both party conventions reached near police-state levels.

Another problem was that I knew few people in Democrat Party circles of influence likely to help me. I could approach the challenge to get in from the media angle, perhaps using my radio gig with Tony Gill at WAIC, but how much would the Democrat poohbahs be impressed by a request from a small college radio station? Even if I could get inside that way, Tony Gill told me that with the students gone for the summer, there was no staff to set up a remote broadcast.

But just when my prospects looked darkest, who should come to the rescue but former City Councilor Mitch Ogulewicz! Mitch and Democrat nominee John Kerry have been friends since the beginning of Kerry's career, with Mitch having served as Western Mass co-coordinator for both Kerry's Lieutenant Governor race and first Senate campaign. Ogulewicz had really gone out on a limb in that Senate race by backing Kerry, since everyone else in the Valley was backing favorite son David Bartley. Mitch's loyalty under difficult circumstances was something Kerry never forgot.

Therefore Mitch received a special guest pass for Kerry's nomination speech, enabling Mitch to listen to the address from a special VIP section reserved for Kerry's friends from throughout his career. Would Mitch's status as a Friend of John be sufficient to get me in as well? Probably not, but it would be worth a try. Besides in any case I would be able to phone in a report on the convention scene to WAIC and gather stuff for this website no matter what went down, so it was really a can't lose proposition for me to accompany Mitch to our state capital. Besides, maybe Mitch's pass could also get me into some of the official convention shindigs taking place throughout Boston.

Mitch is usually a great person to go anywhere with if there is a big crowd and attendance may be difficult. Somehow Mitch always manages not just to get in, but to also get the best seats. I remember going with him once to see John McCain, and we got so close the press photographers were trying to aim around us while the CSPAN broadcast of the rally showed Mitch and I in virtually every shot. At Charlie Ryan's inauguration, Mitch and I had front and center seats in the row directly behind the family. The only way we could have gotten any closer was to have gone next door to City Hall and change our name to Ryan. Mitch likes to get right into the belly of the beast, and of course that is exactly where I want to be as well.

Upon arriving in Boston around 8 a.m. the first test of Mitch's pass was the Massachusetts Delegation breakfast at the posh Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, where the cream de la cream of Massachusetts Democrats were gathering to eat gourmet eggs and bagels beneath crystal chandeliers. As we approached the elegant entrance to the hotel, we were immediately confronted by security. Wisely, I had let Mitch walk a little ahead of me, so that security would address him first. They asked him for his pass, and appeared immediately impressed. At this point I positioned myself beside Mitch like a shadow, and the security person simply said to me, "Are you with him?" I answered yes and Mitch nodded in agreement. Zip - it was that easy as I was waved through security to venture safely deep inside to have breakfast in the very beating heart of the Democrat Party of Massachusetts!

Famous faces were everywhere, and the first person to approach us was former State Representative Ray Jordan. Although Mitch and Jordan have had many disagreements over the years, they greeted one another more like old friends rather than old rivals. The members of the Pioneer Valley delegation to the convention were all there. Some of them looked startled to see me, but no one was rude. Only one member was conspicuous in his absence, Congressman Richard Neal. That was too bad, I had hoped to try and trap him into posing for a picture with Mitch.

While most of the speeches at the breakfast were predictable and dull, U.S. Congressman Barney Frank's brief remarks stood out as both interesting and passionate. He denounced the heavy security at the convention, accusing the authorities of being too afraid of dissent. Frank declared that protestors "should be allowed to be as rude and rowdy as they want, as long as it doesn't turn violent." He even took a verbal swipe at the Boy Scouts who had earlier led a flag procession into the breakfast, saying that he was "so moved by the flag presentation that I wished that the Boy Scouts would let me be a member," a thinly veiled zinger delivered at the organization's refusal to admit homosexuals.

After the breakfast we were all shooed out the door to make room for the next event. Mitch and I were walking down the street, discussing what to do next, when we ran into former Springfield Newspapers reporter Jonathan Tilove, whom Mitch has known since his city council days but hadn't seen in many years. That is one of the nice things about attending affairs like this, you run into people you haven't seen in ages. Tilove now works for the Newhouse Corporation's Washington bureau.

Eventually we decided to go over to historic Fanuel Hall, near Quincy Market, where a big Democrat Party shindig was supposed to be held. By the time we got there the event was already underway and filled to capacity. However a loudspeaker had been set up outside to accommodate the overflow crowd and there was no mistaking the booming baritone of the current speaker, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. We stopped to listen, and after a few minutes Mitch noticed a black Chevy SUV with its engine running parked by an unmarked door. There were security guys hovering all around it. Mitch told me that it was probably waiting for Senator Kennedy.

The sad truth is that because Ted is the last surviving Kennedy brother he was a target of special interest to sickos who wanted the distinction of taking down the last Kennedy brother. Therefore Kennedy usually arrived late to public events and left early, the better to confuse a would-be assailant. As Kennedy ended his speech Mitch and I decided to wander over closer to that SUV and see what would happen. At first no one bothered us, but when I reached into my knapsack for my camera, all of a sudden this big guy in sunglasses with a wire in his ear was right on top of me with an intimidating expression on his face. I slowly took out my camera and once he saw what it was he backed off. However the eagerness with which he seemed prepared to pounce on me was unnerving.

Then suddenly the unmarked door swings open and there he is, being hustled toward the car by a swarm of security, our U. S. Senator and the brother of the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

He's so close to me that I'm caught totally by surprise, but not so much that I fail to swing into action with my camera. The Senator spots Mitch, whom he recognizes from having done radio interviews with Ogulewicz in years past. He greets Mitch warmly, but when I try to get a shot of them shaking hands this security goon gets in the way and I have to twist in an awkward manner that cuts all but Mitch's hand out of the picture. Great shot of Big Ted though.

All this takes about thirty seconds until Ted is in the car and they're moving, but not before I get off one last shot of Senator Kennedy looking through the window, perhaps wondering who this pesky photographer is that has been shadowing him all the way. Then again, he's probably very used to it.

Finally Mitch and I decide it is time to head over to the convention hall itself. We arrive at the Fleet Center, which is the hall where the convention is being held, only we can't see it. There is such a wall of security barriers that the building itself is invisible. Is this our post-911 future, a world of steel and razorwire as armed soldiers look down upon us? It was all very creepy. A few minutes of this Orwellian environment and all hope of my being smuggled into the convention evaporates. They would never let an old outlaw like me into this uptight joint, even if I am accompanied by a Friend of John.

So Mitch went into the convention hall, and I caught a bus back to Amherst.

Today's Video

Yesterday was the big Woodstock show at Northampton's Look Park - prompting the event to be billed as "Lookstock." Unfortunately no videos have surfaced yet, but a few photographs have.

Here's WHMP's Bill Dwight as Wavy Gravy. Pretty good, and extra points for including the Merry Prankster overalls that Ken Kesey used to have them wear during a certain phase.

Brian T. Marchese performed as Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. Here's a picture of him as Kreutzmann.

The real Bill Kreutzmann as he was in the Woodstock era.

Bill Dwight took this photo of Northampton's Mayor Clare Higgins in high hippie fashion.

Until I get some video from the show, here's more from the official Woodstock 40 anniversary concert to tide you over.