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30th July

First Published in The New York Sun, July 30, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

Lorraine Coyle Koppell was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Boston. The process that put her in her seat illuminates much that is wrong with the Party. 

    Not that I have anything against Ms. Koppell. She is a friend and, for her sake, I am pleased that she had what must have been a wonderful experience for such a party stalwart. 

    Ms. Koppell ran in New York state’s March primary as a delegate pledged to Senator Edwards in the 17th Congressional District, which covers parts of Bronx, Westchester, and Rockland counties. As the vote came out, Mr. Edwards was entitled to one delegate in the 17th C.D. 

    Common sense would say that the Edwards delegate in the district who garnered the most votes would win that seat. But common sense is not part of the rules of the New York Democratic State Committee, or for that matter, the national party. 

    Ms. Koppell did not come in first among the prospective delegates on the Edwards slate in the 17th C.D Her husband, City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, the former state Attorney General, did. Despite the fact that the voters preferred Mr. Koppell to his wife, he was consigned to cool his heels outside Boston’s Fleet Center. 

    Unfortunately, upon genetic screening, Mr. Koppell was found to possess XY chromosomes, which disqualified him from taking this particular seat. It seems that to ensure that exactly half of the delegates to the convention are women and the other half men, the quota operators who make up the party rules determined that this delegate spot must go to a woman. Never mind the fact that the voters — most of whom were women — had a different idea. 

    I don’t know whether the Democrats impose some kind of blood testing to ensure veracity of this result, as is done to determine the sex of Olympic athletes. It wouldn’t surprise me. 

    The quest for diversity in the makeup of convention delegates is an obsession that has 

removed it from even the pretense of being democratically selected. The New York State Democratic Party even has specific rules that mandate that half of the delegation be composed of “minorities.” This is despite the fact that significantly more than half of the state population cannot, under these rules, be so categorized. 

    The party obtains this result by rigging a pool of “at-large” delegates, appointed by party officials, rather than chosen by the electorate. This enables these officials to boast of diversity, even though that diversity comes at the cost of democracy. This is fueled by good intentions but serves our worst instincts. 

    One can argue that it really doesn’t matter, since the national conventions of both parties have evolved into spectacles staged for the press.The presidential candidates of both parties are selected months before, chosen through a primary system that is being frontloaded to remove even the remote possibility of the choice being made by the delegates. But it does matter. 

    As a longtime Democrat, I feel the party needs to move past race and gender and quotas, away from the mindset of the Reverend Al Sharpton, who, despite his anemic showing as a presidential contender, was given a coveted prime-time speaking platform. He used the opportunity to undermine any effort the party might undertake to march toward the center. 

    For both Republicans and Democrats, a move to more centrist positions is now essential for victory in a country in which two evenly matched parties largely represent such clear ideologies and the balance of power resides with the unaffiliated. 

    Shouldn’t we aspire to create a society where all people, regardless of background, can feel comfortable voting for blacks, whites, Asian Americans, men, women, gays, straights, and accept the will of the voters, whatever their choice? What are we gaining by institutionalizing a Balkanized society? 

    On this issue, a better message for Democrats and all Americans was delivered by the young state senator who is seeking an open Senate seat from Illinois, Barack Obama. The party’s keynote speaker, Mr. Obama presented a vision of unity as one nation that is 180 degrees from Rev. Sharpton’s America. 

    A noble way for the party to fulfill Mr. Obama’s more hopeful vision would be to have faith in our democracy and let the voters pick their delegates. And if that means that Mr. Koppell gets to go to the next convention rather than his wife, so be it.

© 2004 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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