Dwight Sutherland would be perfect and Paul Wilson could do a great job as well. Alas, nothing has been forthcoming so I’ll offer some of my memories of “working” at two of the most recent political conventions here – there’ve been 4 total – and add a Richard Nixon story to spice things up a bit.
My parents were committed Democrats and I recall my mother talking about what a sharp guy Adlai Stevenson II was and how he should have been President (he lost twice to Dwight Eisenhower).
In 1960, when I was at the ripe young age of 8, John Kennedy made a campaign stop here.
His motorcade route was publicized so I picked the northeast corner of 63rd & Paseo – a short walking distance of my home – and went to get a look at him. As his convertible limo turned the corner and headed north on the Paseo, I swear we made eye contact.
My addiction to politics was sealed at that moment.
I went to college at American University in Washington, D.C. fully expecting to go into politics or government service after graduation.
To that end, in 1972, through an acquaintance at my school who graduated a couple of years ahead of me, I had a chance to work for CREEP ( the Committee to Re-Elect the President). As a political science undergrad no way was going to pass on that, regardless of the fact that I would never have voted for Nixon.
With two or three others from my school, we worked at Nixon’s office in Georgetown sorting mailed in contributions. They had purchased mailing lists from magazines , associations, etc. and the return envelopes were coded to identify which mailing list they came from.
Aside from collecting the money, we had to sort the envelopes so they could send follow-ups to the mailing lists that generated the highest returns. Maurice Stans, Nixon’s finance chairman for the campaign, was at our office three or four nights each week (the older guys had a poker game in the middle area while we younger kids would be in surrounding rooms).
Prior to that, Stans was Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce. He was an unbelievably nice guy and would engage us in conversation regularly. For an aspiring young political science major, this was the internship from heaven and they even paid me to do it (besides the assortment of pizza that was delivered each night).
If there was anyone who could have convinced me to move over to the darkside, it would have been Maurice Stans.
The amount of money that was coming in to our office was enormous. Way more than what was needed to defeat George McGovern. I figured they were using part of it to support other GOP candidates running for Congress around the nation but Watergate broke shortly after that and Stans got caught up in that mess.
As CREEP workers, we were all invited to attend one of the many inauguration balls and got to meet President Nixon.
I was stunned at how short and ugly the man was.
I guess the camera made him look taller and better looking, but in person he was an ogre.
It was held in Kansas City.
Through local party people I got a job working there and was assigned as the driver for John McFall, a congressman from California, the Democratic House majority whip.
Only a limited number of delegates got cars and drivers that local car dealerships had donated, and I got a new, black Chevrolet Impala to drive him around in.
Basically I picked him up at his hotel ( the Alameda Plaza, now the Intercontinental) and took him wherever he needed to go for meetings that week. I also got passes to the convention floor and as a result of that, got to meet Ted Kennedy as he was walking to where his delegation was seated.
Kennedy had four burly security guys around him so I was lucky to get a handshake.
Where Nixon was small and scary looking, Kennedy was just the opposite.
He looked like a brick wall, even bigger and tougher looking than the security guys that surrounded him. Kennedy was a moral degenerate and had he acted more responsibly that evening in Chappaquiddick, Mary Jo Kopechne might have survived the accident.
However putting that aside – and his constituency in Massachusetts obviously did – Kennedy rose to become one of the most powerful and successful legislators in this country’s history. He had many friends on the other side of the aisle and was able to build coalitions to successfully pass legislation (in my humble opinion as a liberal).
That brings us to 1976 and I’m a couple of years out of college working in Kansas City.
The father of a very close friend from college was a delegate to the GOP convention in Kansas City for the state of New York. My friend Cal, accompanied his father to KC and we both worked as “Gofers” for the New York delegation. Mainly we delivered paperwork among members or to other state delegations.
It wasn’t very demanding work, but I did get to meet Nelson Rockefeller, President Gerald Ford’s V.P. and the governor of New York. Rockefeller was maybe the last major example of a liberal Republican.
They went extinct very shortly after that.
Obviously the excitement at the convention was that California Governor Ronald Reagan was making a run at a sitting president. Because it’s pretty unusual for someone in the same party as a sitting president to run against him at the convention, but it was happening (Ted Kennedy did it against President Jimmy Carter in 1980).
There was a lot of talk that Ford’s pardon of Nixon would make him unelectable so many in the GOP felt the party needed to get off that sinking ship.
Reagan had an uphill battle and to create momentum, he named his running mate, Senator Richard Schweiker from Pennsylvania, even before winning the nomination which did create a buzz, because naming a running mate prior to receiving the nomination was unheard of before that.
My most powerful memory of the convention occurred one morning while my friend Cal and I were sitting by ourselves in a small office just outside a larger meeting room on one of the upper floors of the Muehlebach Hotel.
The entire New York delegation was meeting and we were waiting outside the room in case we might be asked to perform some menial assignment when the door to the outside lobby areas opened and in walked two secret service agents, followed by President Ford with two additional agents behind him.
Ford had come to speak to the New York delegation to cement their support for his nomination and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Even though it was short, it’s not often a person gets to have a brief conversation and shake the hand of a sitting President. Pretty cool experience for a young punk from Kansas City. As we all know, Ford went on to win the nomination, lose to Carter and later Reagan destroyed Carter in 1980.
You may also know that Kansas City hosted the 1928 GOP convention where Herbert Hoover was nominated and went on to defeat New York Governor Al Smith. But did you also know that Kansas City also hosted the Democratic Convention in 1900 when William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stevenson were nominated?
They went down to defeat, to William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt in the general election. So Kansas City is batting 1-1 in general elections with regards to nominees selected here.
Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to break that tie in 2016.