Florida, Michigan delegates are seated in limbo

By Beth Reinhard

McClatchy Newspapers

MIAMI — Five months away from one of the most anticipated political conventions in American history, there’s no room at the inn — or even the Motel 6 — for delegates from Florida and Michigan.

Officially, the two states’ delegates to the Democratic national convention don’t even exist under the national party’s decree to ignore the states’ unauthorized early primaries.

Some Florida delegates are vowing to go to the convention in Denver regardless of whether a compromise is reached, hinting at nonviolent, shorter-haired replays of the protests that marked the 1968 convention in Chicago. Others say they’d close their checkbook to the Democratic Party before engaging in civil disobedience.


"I don’t expect the Florida delegation to storm the Bastille," said delegate Mike Moskowitz, a 55-year-old attorney who lives in Parkland. "I’m getting a little too old for that."

All of the Florida delegates interviewed firmly believe that the Democratic National Committee will relent before the Aug. 25-28 convention and allow them to participate.

But consider: Florida Democrats bargained the national party wouldn’t dare to strip convention delegates from a state crucial to victory in November. They scoffed at the idea that the presidential candidates would bow to pressure to boycott the state.

Wrong and wrong.

Brace for the possibility, however small, that the nationally televised roll call of states will skip from the great state of Delaware to the great state of Georgia.

"I have this horrible feeling that I was elected to be a delegate to stand outside a building," said delegate Ann Zucker of Weston, Fla. "I would stand outside and proclaim to anyone in the world that would listen that I’m from Florida, I’m a loyal Democrat, and I have as much right to be there as anybody else."

Don’t even think about sneaking in. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated the convention as a "national special security event," putting the Secret Service and the FBI in charge of making sure that only delegates with credentials are allowed in.

"I don’t know what we’ll do when we get there, but we’ll do it together," said delegate Bill Kling of Plantation, Fla. "Maybe we’ll just go on strike."


To the folks back home, delegates are mere partygoers to a nationally broadcast pep rally heavy on confetti and light on suspense. But with neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama in reach of the 2,024 delegates needed to claim the nomination, the 2008 convention could be the first in decades where the delegates play more than a symbolic role.

Who are these potential kingmakers? A chunk of Florida’s 211 delegates were elected in a little-noticed event run by the state party on March 1, while the rest are elected officials, Democratic National Committee members and party appointees. Typically they would be divvied up among the candidates to represent the will of the primary voters.

But this year, the national party is refusing to seat the Clinton-heavy delegations from Florida and Michigan because the states flouted the official primary calendar. Proposals to hold new elections in the two states have collapsed, leaving the delegates uncertain as to whether they are going to Denver at all.

North Miami Vice Mayor Jacques Despinosse has been to nearly every Democratic convention since he became a U.S. citizen in 1979, but he pulled his name off the delegate ballot in frustration.

"When you add up everything — hotel, airfare, meals — it’s $2,000 any way you cut the cake," he said. "To go spend that kind of money and nobody is guaranteeing us anything?"

Reservations are handled by the national party, which booked thousands of rooms months ago and invited state party leaders to tour them and identify their top choices. New York and California, for example, landed the Adam’s Mark, which bills itself as Denver’s "premier" downtown hotel.

About 5,000 delegates from 48 states — plus the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia — are assigned to 27 hotels.

"I am confident that our most important guests at the 2008 Democratic National Convention — our delegates — will be pleased with their accommodations," said Leah Daughtry, the convention’s chief executive, when the hotels were announced in November. "Hotel management (are) rolling out the red carpet citywide."


Unless you’re from Florida or Michigan, that is. Officials have hinted that rooms have been set aside in the event that a deal is worked out between the two states and national parties.

Back in the salad days of 2004, Florida delegates scored a hotel close to the convention hall and got seats so close to the stage that several newscasters slipped in to do their stand-ups, said Scott Maddox, the former state party chairman.

"That’s sort of like a status of how states rank," said Maddox, who serves on a committee overseeing credentials to the convention. "Now it’s going to be extremely tough for Florida to find accommodations at all. We have clearly lost our place in line."

About once a week, delegate Jack Shifrel takes a spin through the discount travel Web sites. A round-trip flight from Fort Lauderdale to Denver is currently running about $318 plus tax.

"Here’s my game plan," he said. "If I see it go up higher, I’ll probably make a reservation. I want to be out there, no matter what."

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