Democrats gathering as Clinton gains momentum Maryland delegates head to N.Y. united and hungry for victory

July 12, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Robert Legg, one of two Harford residents who are members of the Democratic Platform Committee, was misidentified last Sunday.

Maryland Democrats head for their party's nominating convention in Madison Square Garden today hungry for victory, enthusiastic about their new generation ticket and willing to pay the price of unity to see it elected.

"People are beginning to realize they need what the Democratic Party can provide," said Mary Jo Neville, a Democratic national committeewoman from Baltimore.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Interviews with more than 30 of the departing delegates suggest an unusually high degree of harmony and discipline for a party that has defined and sometimes defeated itself by disagreement.

In New York, delegates said, united Democrats will help show the way to a new prosperity.

"We're at a juncture in our history where we can go down a very wrong path or a very good path," said the state party's vice chairwoman, Baltimore City Councilwoman Vera P. Hall. "The budget is not under control. Welfare is not working. Race relations are worse than I can remember them being. And we have to deal with education the way we dealt with that war in the desert.

"It seems like one of the most unpredictable years, but it could be one of the most exciting."

A hope that prodigal members might return to the party this year and provide a victory margin was part of the new optimism.

"It was easy to move away 12 years ago," said William H. Bolander, a union leader, "but today people are getting hit in their own breadbasket."

Though Paul E. Tsongas won the Maryland primary last March, the delegates he won have all agreed to vote for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the party's presumptive nominee. The former Massachusetts senator's representatives here have been working closely with Larry Gibson, the Baltimore lawyer and adviser to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Mr. Gibson is Maryland campaign chairman for Mr. Clinton.

A study in variety

Those who will stand for Maryland Democrats in New York come from a wide range of vocations. They include a university administrator, a real estate developer, a bartender, a court clerk, a grocer, a magazine designer, several state legislators, a 19-year-old student and a 79-year-old state official who attended his first convention in 1940.

The youngest is the 19-year-old, Dedrick Dunbar of Columbia, who describes himself as a political radical, a fan of liberal Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and perhaps a representative of younger Democrats still searching for a leader. (He was the only delegate interviewed willing to consider the billionaire would-be candidate, Ross Perot).

On the other hand, the oldest delegate, Maryland Comptroller of the Treasury Louis L. Goldstein, says Mr. Clinton and his running mate, Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, give Democrats their best shot at the White House in years.

By party rules, the delegation is evenly divided between women and men.

Most of its members are moderate political thinkers situating themselves at the center of the mainstream -- though several suggested that economic and political forces have pushed the stream bed back toward traditional Democratic channels.

Several were proud to embrace the label of liberal. The political pendulum is swinging in their direction, they say.

"People are getting gouged so much, they're so behind on things," said Mr. Bolander, executive director of Local 92, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. me, a liberal means someone who is a social progressive, interested in national health insurance, basic worker rights like safety regulations. If that's liberal, that's me."

Mr. Bolander said the time when organized labor could expect a presidential candidate to promise everything to unions was gone. He is satisfied, he said, that Mr. Clinton is committed to a better deal for the working man.

Councilwoman Hall said the party had sometimes "over-accommodated." It disregards those who criticize this tendency at great peril, in her opinion. She thinks the move toward a more pragmatic philosophy will be needed to keep the party strong and growing again, and she cited conversations with her children as the evidence.

"They don't want any waffling," she said. Her advice to the candidate: Sharpen your message; make it work outside party councils.

On the issues of race and support for education, she said, Mr. Clinton has been less convincing to her children than to her. She heard something familiar and somewhat startling in what they were saying.

"They sounded like my grandmother," she said. "They said Clinton's strength in these areas doesn't come across to them. I thought he was doing it, but in the view of these younger people he wasn't. They've lost faith in all of our systems: family, Congress, party, etc."

Many said the prospect of being involved even peripherally in the selection of a party's presidential candidate gave them a surge of excitement -- even if the job has already been accomplished by the primaries.

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