The Democratic delegation from Manatee and Sarasota planned far in advance for their arrival here this weekend to attend their national convention.
District 16 voters picked six delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention — four for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and two for Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to the Florida Democratic Party.
Clinton and Sanders delegates predict the four-day event, which starts Monday, will unify the party for the general election campaign.
David Beaton, a Sanders delegate and co-founder of WSLR community radio station in Sarasota, said he is still excited to vote for Bernie Sanders in the first roll call vote and hopes to see platform changes go up for debate on the convention floor.
“I am saddened that his chance at the presidency is over. I will stand with him as we support the people’s platform that we have helped shape,” Beaton said. “The Democratic Party will leave the convention united, excited and with platform in hand.”
West Manatee Fire Commissioner Lawrence Jennis said he looks forward to interacting with the nation’s other Democrats in support of Clinton. He said Democrats will be headed toward the White House after the convention.
“The party is gonna leave the convention energized, united and ready to win,” he said. “I’m excited to meet other Democrats and our elected officials. It’s past due that we’ve had a woman run for president. I think she will do very well in the election.”
Arlene Sweeting, a Manatee County teacher, activist and co-founder of WSLR radio with Beaton, traveled with the other District 16 Sanders delegates to attend progressive events. Such assemblies included a session Saturday on the people’s platform, and a climate change march set for Sunday.
The Sanders delegates are not the only progressive thinkers in the delegation. Michael Fischer called this an election of many firsts.
“I’m most excited about nominating the first female president of a major political party,” Fischer said. “We’re breaking so many barriers and cracking ceilings this election. This is the first election year every interest group has a stake in the Democratic Party.”
This convention will be the first for Lucy Lapides, a Clinton delegate from Manatee.
“I’m very excited, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the Lakewood Ranch Democratic Club president said. “I’ve been a political junkie since before 1970. My first memory is my mother holding me at a polling place in New York.”
Sanders has yet to reveal what role he will play in the party going forward, and whether Clinton will be the glue that can bind the party together the way delegates anticipate.
“For me, he is not a negative but there will be lots of work to do to bring in Sanders’ supporters. He is a very experienced mayor, governor and senator with foreign policy expertise so he is a safe but not exciting pick,” said Lapides. “He’s a Democratic governor so we don’t lose a seat in Senate. He’ll likely help swing the state of Virginia, which is critical. I think he’ll be good on the campaign trail.”
Lapides said it is important for Clinton to become president because the liberties Americans have fought for will be in jeopardy otherwise.
“If Republicans run the White House, the civil, gay and women’s rights we’ve fought for over the last 60 years could be lost,” she said. “We could lose protection for the weakest among us.”
Another Clinton delegate, Christine Jennings, said she believes the convention will reveal the astute and tolerant nature of the Democratic Party.
“The Democratic Party should be the party of choice because it represents diversity and highly intelligent people with compassion for all human beings,” said Jennings, chairwoman of the Sarasota County Democrats.
Lapides said the real campaigning will begin after the convention.
“Because of the length of the primary season and Bernie Sanders taking a long time to step down, it has been very difficult to begin the on-the-ground campaign,” Lapides said. “After the convention we can begin making calls, knocking on doors and contacting all voters.”
Katherine Sogolow, a delegate pledged to Sanders, said she believes he can still affect the party platform even though he has chosen to stand behind Clinton.
“I hope the Democratic Party leaves the convention with a strong progressive platform that will really create lasting, positive economic and social justice — giving the people something to vote for,” Sogolow said.
“Tim Kaine is for the TPP, he’s for big oil. How are we supposed to have emphasis on a clean, green revolution and fight climate change with him in office?” Sogolow asked.
“He appears to be an establishment candidate and I am anti-establishment. He’s not a guy that thinks outside the democratic box so I think he’s a little problematic,” said David Beaton, the other District 16 Sanders delegate.
Delegates are staying at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Philadelphia, according to a list of hotel assignments released by the DNC. They plan to attend caucus and council meetings open to the public throughout the convention. Each weeknight event has a theme addressing certain aspects of the party platform, with a list of high-profile speeches catering to those issues.
Monday’s theme will be “United Together,” Tuesday will be “A Lifetime of Fighting for Children and Families,” Wednesday is “Working Together” and Thursday is “Stronger Together.”