Md. convention delegates are ready to be 'a part of history' 100-member contingent is cross-section of state

Democratic Convention

August 25, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

Maryland Democrats rendezvous in Chicago this weekend to renominate their party's incumbent president and to realize long-standing personal dreams.

Proud of the Clinton administration's record, they are also seeking what Mary Ellen Shine called "a culmination" of her family's reverence for the American political process. She began to understand her parents' commitment to conventions when a strict rule of daily life was suspended.

"It was the only time we were allowed to eat our meals in front of the television set," said the PTA member and alternate delegate from Silver Spring.

The 100-member Maryland contingent also includes a retired Army general, a dog trainer, a nurse, a law school professor, a university professor and an assortment of public officeholders.

Critics may call political conventions unnecessary, but many in Maryland's delegation would agree with Mary H. Tolbert, the mayor of Barnesville, who said this week: "The pinnacle of my political activities over the last 50 years -- an honor any political junkie would die for."

While they have been asked to restrain their rhetoric, delegates will prove they are still Democrats, unrestrained and free to speak.

"We must protect the middle class, the seniors and the less fortunate from the [GOP's] big business, gun-loving, right-leaning politics," said Robert S. McGarry, a retired general who spent 25 years in the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Maryland delegation is drawn from every part of the state. Exactly half are men, and half are women under party rules. Maryland's group includes many minority group members and a strong representation from labor.

"I imagine myself being a part of history," said Bettye Anne Ridgley, one of the state's African-American delegates, one of its union members -- and its only crane operator. Ridgley works for ** Bethlehem Steel Corp. at Sparrows Point.

"We don't shy away from unions," said Rich Parsons, the Maryland party's executive director. "Republicans try to demonize unions while saying they represent working people."

The delegates were to be feted last night at "Taste of Chicago," an extravaganza of fireworks and food followed by a "pyrotechnic air show" at the Navy Pier on Lake Michigan. The convention begins officially tomorrow.

Most of the Marylanders will be lodged at the Ramada Congress Hotel, between a famous blues club and Grant Park, scene of the riots that disrupted the 1968 Democratic convention.

In his official comments on the coming convention, the Maryland Democratic Party's current chairman, Harry Hughes, said in jest: "Not Chicago again!" In truth, he and others suggested, Chicago gives his party an opportunity to show how much it has changed.

Like the Republicans who met three weeks ago in San Diego, the Democrats want to show they are unified behind their national ticket and to sell its accomplishments.

"We want to contrast the moderate mainstream views of our party on bread-and-butter issues to the wild-eyed, right-wing notions of the opposition," Parsons said.

He acknowledged that not every Democrat is happy with the president's decision to sign a welfare reform bill that, critics say, will plunge millions of children into poverty -- to satisfy a political need to look tough on welfare.

While some delegates are disappointed over the welfare bill, Parsons said, the party takes this position: The bill would have been far worse if a Democrat had not been in the White House.

A similar view is expressed by the gay and lesbian community.

Brian J. Scott, a delegate from Rockville, who is director of Whitman-Walker Clinic in Maryland, said the Clinton administration has provided "more dollars overall" for research and service than he would have expected from a Republican Administration.

The Maryland delegation will be chaired officially by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will be there -- as will all of the state's U.S. representatives and its two U.S. senators.

Maryland State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein will be attending his 14th convention. He could become media star of the week: At age 83, he's in a position to give eyewitness accounts of the re-election of Franklin D. Roosevelt -- the last time a Democrat has been re-elected.

Mary Jo Neville, vice chair of the party, is eager to participate in a tribute to the late Ronald H. Brown, the secretary of commerce and former chairman of the party, who died this year in a plane crash.

Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis, candidate for Congress in the 2nd District, will hold a fund-raiser.

Glendening will not hold a fund-raiser, though two were offered. In addition to presiding over the delegation's daily caucuses, the governor said he'll get out to a baseball game, his only extracurricular activity for the week.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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