Near total control in Boston

Democrats keep `positive' message

Election 2004

Democratic Convention

July 30, 2004|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

BOSTON - The convention ran with precision and message-control, following a script that barely changed all week.

When the delegates got tired of talking about the need for civility, they talked about unity. and when that got old, they talked about harmony.

Who were these people, and what did they do with the real Democrats?

"The Democrats have done a better job of acting like the Republicans than the Republicans," said Eli Beckerman, 27.

Beckerman was among the protesters who gathered in Boston this week only to find themselves penned inside designated areas for detractors. It was part of the intense control the Democrats and their host city put in place both inside and outside the convention hall to ensure a smooth coronation of John Kerry.

Even when demonstrators were able to break free and seize the spotlight momentarily yesterday, the police responded in such numbers that the demonstration could only go so far. Roughly 400 protesters marched through the city to the designated, penned-in demonstration area, where they were met by a swarm of riot police who used clubs to quickly control the crowd.

But inside the FleetCenter, the convention ran with the kind of lockstep that characterizes the Republicans, not Democrats, who famously get lost in their own big tent.

Instead, prime-time speakers steered clear of controversy; most even avoided calling their Republican opponent by his actual name. Delegates followed the mandate to "stay positive." And the images fell in line, too, like when the Al-Jazeera sign by a skybox disappeared early in the week, removed when the Democratic National Committee argued it needed the space for a John Kerry sign.

The guests played along, too. Hollywood types strove mightily to connect their sound bites to Kerry ("I used to work for a congressman who was friends with John Kerry," a greasy-haired Billy Baldwin said on one red carpet, attempting convention synergy).

Even talk-show host Jerry Springer, an Ohio delegate, couldn't be relied on to deviate from the party-approved tone. The same time a woman was telling Springer on a taped show, "Jerry, my marriage is a complete disaster ... he says I'm sleeping with everybody and now I am," Springer was pronouncing on CNN that Ohio needs manufacturing jobs.

During the week, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino refused to acknowledge discord in any form. When he showed up at Boston's Symphony Hall for a tribute to Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, Menino wouldn't describe a labor dispute with police, which threatened picket lines just before the start of the convention, as serious.

Union strife? Hardly, said Menino. "That was just a discussion point we had," he said before disappearing inside Symphony Hall for an evening with celebrities such as Glenn Close, Yo-Yo Ma and Bono.

Even the lead singer of U2, who generated headlines for his exuberant use of an expletive when accepting a Golden Globe in 2003, was on his best behavior. From the stage at the Kennedy event, Bono brought up Vice President Dick Cheney, but the singer's attempt to go after GOP blood quickly turned anemic.

"At the Golden Globes I met Dick Cheney, and I ended up using an expletive," he said, coyly adding: "There's been an awful lot of fuss about this particular expletive."

And that was it. Then he got out of the way for the Kennedy film tribute.

There were, of course, occasional off notes - and not just in the key of "shove it." After Kennedy's midweek convention speech was simulcast in Symphony Hall, a state legislator griped that guests didn't respond with enough passion for the senator.

At the end of the concert tribute, when it finally came time for the party's most outspoken liberal to speak to his friends with all the left-wing fire he could muster, Kennedy took a pass. The senator did not use the moment to amp up his relatively restrained performance inside the convention hall earlier that evening. Instead, he kept his mouth shut and donned a white dinner jacket. Guest conductor John Williams handed him a baton and, with that, Kennedy led the orchestra through "Stars and Stripes Forever."

And, as they did all week, the Democrats listened to the music and called it harmony.

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