Ted Kennedy and my Life....My First Election.
Very few people in Michigan know of my early political life and might be surprised to learn that I was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1980. I was elected as a Kennedy delegate from the 15th Congressional District of Ohio (Columbus) and went to New York City with my partner in August 1980. I was all of 23 years old.
President Jimmy Carter had lost a huge amount of support in the late 70's, when I was a student at Ohio State University in Columbus. The economy was in a shambles, with unemployment, high inflation, gasoline shortages, and the Iranian hostage crisis was in full swing.
As a young liberal Democratic activist, I started a "Citizens for Kennedy" committee in my working class neighborhood in Columbus' north side. Delegates were selected by caucuses in
congressional districts, prior to the primary. I ran a surprise grass roots campaign to be selected as a Kennedy delegate, and built a coalition of pro-choice, environmental, and gay activists. To everyone's surprise (including my own) I came in first place among hundreds of activists and party workers. I beat out the labor delegates and the party leaders, including the chair of the local party.
In the Ohio primary, Kennedy did well, although he did not beat Carter in Ohio or in my district. But because of the porportional way delegates were selected, I managed to become a delegate.
Kennedy did well enough in my district to get a couple of pledged delegates.
I was the youngest delegate ever selected and also the first openly Gay delegate from Ohio.
(maybe this won't surprise very many people).
During the convention in New York City, I got in trouble for hanging a giant banner out of my hotel window that read "You forgot us President Carter, 20,000,000 Gay Americans.
I had carried that same banner when Carter toured Columbus, and I will never forget the look on his face when he saw it from his limo. We frowned and shook his head no, disagreeing with my banner.
One of my favorite memories was attending a reception held by the delegates from Puerto Rico, which featured giant bowls of pina coladas. (This wont surprise anyone either !)
Kennedy was a liberal lion, and attempted to carry on the "Chamelot" legacy of his brothers.
He lost the nomination then, and Carter of course lost the election to Ronald Reagan. I never got to meet him, but at the Gay caucus (there were about 75 gay delegates at the convention) we were visited by a nephew.
My first Democratic party activism was in 1972, when I ran a neighborhood campaign for George McGovern. I was 15 years old, and protesting the Viet Nam war. And of course last year, I was an early endorser and campaigner for Barak Obama.
Maybe none of this surprises anyone. Some things just don't change.