The call went out in the early Spring: Bernie needs people to register with the Democratic Party of Michigan and also to register to run for election as a delegate to the national convention this summer in Philadelphia. It costs $10 to join the party and paperwork to run for delegate must be received by the MDP at least 30 days before the Congressional District meetings that would be held on May 21. And that was it–that was all I knew about becoming a delegate to the Presidential convention. My ignorance, however, did not stop me from sending in my $10 and my delegate application. For good measure, I had Bill fill out the same and sent his in as well. I didn’t think too much more about it…
…until the week before May 21. Sometime that week, I got a phone call from Michelle, who has been magnificent in her efforts to coordinate Southeast Michigan for Bernie. (More about how Michelle and I met in another post). A very rough transcript of our conversation goes like this:
“Patty, Labor is putting together a slate for the upcoming delegate election, and for the first time in history, the UAW is going to put someone who is not a union member on the slate. There are some Bernie supporters high up in Labor as well as the MDP and they want to be sure they have strong a Bernie delegates on their slate, someone they can count on to stay strong for Bernie at the convention.”
“Huh?” Because I’m so articulate in these situations.
“They don’t have a union member for the female Bernie slot in the 11th District and they asked the campaign for a recommendation. We recommended you.”
“Huh?” Again, so articulate.
“Are you willing to be on the Labor slate for the delegate election next Saturday?”
“I’m so glad you said yes–because we already told them that you would do it and you’re on the Labor slate.”
And there you have it. For the first time in history, Labor in Michigan is going to run non-union members on their slates for pledged delegate positions for the Democratic Presidential Primary–and that person in the 11th district is me. I do support Labor’s positions and when I had the brief opportunity joined the American Federation of Teachers, but what had I gotten into?
Michelle coached me to be prepared to hand out some sort of flyer introducing myself to the district members. She told us to get there early and spend time “campaigning” during the meet and greet. I had no idea how I would pull this off or what was appropriate, but the morning of the election I got up early and prepared a flyer to hand out at the District meeting:
Bill did not prepare a flyer as he was less invested in this than I, and on the morning of May 21, 2016, we headed up to Commerce Township for the Michigan Democratic Party Eleventh Congressional District meeting.
The meeting was held at the Michigan Education Association offices and thank goodness they had a sign out front as it is located just off of one of those terrible roundabouts and tricky to find. We arrived as the staff and meeting volunteers were still setting up. I know that everybody has seen the videos of the anger and disruption at the Nevada and New York meetings, but I want to be very clear that we have experienced nothing like that with the Michigan Democratic Party. Everyone has been helpful and welcoming and enthusiastic about our participation. Of course, Bernie won Michigan, and I think that was due in large part to how well Michigan ran their primary.
The meeting was set to begin at 11:00 and we arrived around 9:30, so for a good hour and a half Bill and I circulated and introduced ourselves to the soon-to-be-voting members of the 11th District. Our friend Kelly–she of the glorious purple hair–also was a delegate candidate, but she hadn’t been briefed and was angry that there was a slate and that she didn’t know about the flyers. I felt guilty and realized that it really does help to be supported by people on the inside. Why I was the beneficiary of that, I didn’t know. But Kelly is very cool and she hung out with us through the morning. I can say, unequivocally, that I would have wholeheartedly supported her as the delegate. She worked hard for Bernie all year and deserved to be a delegate as much as anyone. Unfortunately, there was only one female slot.
As I circulated around the room, I introduced myself as a candidate for the Bernie delegate position; Hillary supporters would just reply, “I’m for Hillary” which created an awkward moment, but I just decided to reply with, “Great. Have a good morning then” and off I’d go to the next person, taking back my flyer from the HRC supporters who clearly had no use for it.
I was about ¾ of the way through the meet and greet when a man in a suit walked up to me and introduced himself:
“I’m Bill Black with Labor and I want to thank you for being on our slate.” Bill Black was on the slate along with a gentleman named Mike Whitty, and me.
“Thank you. I’m honored to be chosen. And which union are you with?”
“I work for Jimmy Hoffa.” At which point my head exploded because, my God, Jimmy Hoffa. This man is a Teamster, and of course I know that today’s Jimmy Hoffa is James Hoffa, Jr., THE Jimmy Hoffa’s son, but he said “Jimmy Hoffa” and all I could think was, “Brendan, did you hear that? He said Jimmy Hoffa?” Brendan is my dear departed former husband who loved nothing more than a good conspiracy theory and was a student of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance. He was also a student of the Kennedy Assassination, Area 51 and televangelists. I prayed he was watching from his perch somewhere in the galaxy where I am sure he has learned the answers to all of the aforementioned mysteries.
Then Teamster Bill turned and pointed his finger at my Bill and said, “I know you.”
“I used to be a hardcore Teamster,” says my Bill about a past that happened long before I met him.
“I was with Greg Nowak.”
“Local 1038? You were part of the strike.”
And Teamster Bill turns, takes out his phone, and hands it to me. “Take our picture.” Then Teamster Bill puts his arm around my Bill and there I am–the Labor slate candidate, remember me?–taking their picture. What in the world?
Teamster Bill takes back his phone and sends a quick text message with photo to Greg saying something along the lines of “Look who I found after all these years at the 11th Congressional District Convention this fine Saturday morning,” and moments later, Greg, now the Teamster’s Detroit Council President, texts back something like, “I’ll be damned; tell Bill hello.” Jesus–who is this man, my Bill? “I’ll tell you later” says he. Great.
At 11:00 the meeting was called to order and Pam Jackson was elected chair. She’s a funny woman who lead with purpose as well as warmth. She went over the rules and it was decided that the slates would be abolished; votes would be cast for individuals only. I didn’t know what that would mean for me, but I wasn’t given much time to worry about it. The Hillary camp had more people there and so the Berners were invited to move into the smaller room next door for the election of delegates. That was fine and fair, except that our room had no chairs or air and was too small. One person called for our meeting to move out to the parking lot, but that didn’t go anywhere. Teamster Bill stepped up as a volunteer chair, and the group voted him in to run the Bernie caucus.
The candidates’ names were listed on a poster on an easel and the names of the candidates who were not present were struck through. (James Hoffa was one of those not present and removed from the running). My Bill took himself out of the running as he felt there were others more involved and qualified than he. One gentleman demanded that all of the candidates declare their allegiance to the Democratic nominee–whoever that turned out to be–in November before votes were cast. He was shouted down and I spoke out, “You had the opportunity to speak to all of the candidates before the vote; this is not the place for that and nobody here is obligated to make promises about November here in May. Our job is to elect delegates for July.” He shrunk back against the wall. The group decided that there would be no campaigning before the vote, but each candidate would be called on to identify himself or herself before the votes were cast.
In Michigan, delegates are apportioned according to the proportion of votes won by each candidate in the primary. The delegates are further designated by gender and the MDP has an affirmative action plan to encourage minority and youth participation. Michigan’s 11th Congressional District is as gerrymandered Republican as they come, so even though this was the Democratic Party convention, it was a pretty white meeting. But the gender breakdown was interesting: the 11th District would elect 6 delegates total, Hillary got 3, and Bernie got 3. Hillary’s delegates would be 2 female and 1 male. Bernie would get 2 male and 1 female. I have no idea how this was determined, but there I was in the running for the 1 female Bernie slot.
Here’s where it gets confusing. When we arrived and registered, each person was given a small paper-clipped set of 3 pre-cut pieces of colored index cards: 2 of a color, and one of another. The 11th encompasses parts of 2 counties, Wayne and Oakland; Wayne County residents were given a colored set of cards of yellow and green; Oakland County residents were given a set of 2 different colors. These colored cards were to allow for 2 votes for male delegates, and 1 vote for the female delegate for the Bernie caucus, and the opposite for the Hillary caucus.. In addition, the different counties had different color sets to allow for proportional voting. Wayne County had 69 people present at the meeting; Oakland County had 59 people present. If my notes are correct, that meant that the weighted votes would be Wayne County at 2.01%, and Oakland County votes counted as 1.93%. I have no idea who figured that out, but God bless ‘em for it.
The men went first. After each man introduced himself–no campaigning!–we lined up to cast our votes. Someone asked if we could cast both of our male ballots for one candidate and the answer–from whomever knew the answers–was yes. There was a long table against the wall on the far side, and on it were small mesh baskets. Each candidate had a basket and his name on an index card clothespined to it. And so we filed by, each voter circling around the room dropping the ballots into the appropriate baskets as we passed. If felt like a children’s game: Ring around the Rosy meets some kind of basket toss. Is this how presidential politics is decided? 45 people in a room dropping pieces of colored notecards into wire mesh baskets? Somehow I imagined something more dignified.
The votes were counted and the results were in: Mike Whitty, a Bernie organizer from Oakland County was the first winner. The second winner was Ethan Petzold–an 18 year old senior in high school from our very own Canton, Michigan! Mike had been on the Labor slate with me and Teamster Bill, but Ethan, in addition to support from his Canton group, had brought his mother, his father, his grandmother and his aunt who clearly all had dumped their 2 male votes each into Ethan’s basket! An 18 year old kid had bumped the Teamsters–and Bill Black was angry. Ethan is a great kid and very deserving of the honor; he told me that he heard Teamster Bill swearing on the way out. Good for Ethan and Mike!
Next up was the female vote and we went through the whole parade again. I had a moment of thinking I’d give my vote to Kelly–she really deserves to go–but then decided to have faith in myself and vote my own way. The wait was nerve-wracking and not because I was so invested in being a delegate. It was nerve wracking because it really did feel like some kind of high school popularity contest and my God, shouldn’t it all be more IMPORTANT than that? They called out the result: there was a tie for first place. Patricia Mullen and Ethel (whose last name I do not know) were tied with 13 votes each. It was time to use the proportional weights and see if that broke the tie.
The vote counters huddled together and we waited while they did their math magic. Then the votes were announced and I had won by .2. I’m from Wayne County; Ethel is from Oakland. Wayne is weighted more heavily than Oakland and I had gotten more Wayne votes. I had just been elected the female delegate pledged for Senator Bernie Sanders to the National Democratic Party convention. Wow.
But wait! Someone challenged the result. Hold on everybody, these results are not final. The number huddlers re-huddled over the paper ballots, re-crunched the numbers and FINALLY turned back to the group to announce that yes, there had been an error, BUT, it only changed the final vote points of the 3rd place candidate. Patricia Mullen remained the winner. WOW!
There were hugs and congratulations and I-can’t-believe-its all around. Somebody took pictures of Mike, Ethan and me, and if I ever find out who I’ll be sure to get a copy. The Hillary vote was still going on as there had been 17 candidates for the 2 female slots in that group. We waited around thinking there might be some kind of information shared, but there wasn’t. By the time the HRC delegates were declared, most of the Bernie folks had been long gone. I congratulated my counterparts and Bill and I left.
Even though we didn’t vote slates, I told Bill that I thought being on the Labor slate helped me. “Maybe a vote or two, but no, you did the work. You worked for Bernie and were known; you had your flyer ready and got here and worked the room. You deserve this.”
“Thanks. Now, tell me why that Teamster knows you.”
“I told you about the strike in the 80s; when the lawsuit finally settled, it was the largest single settlement in Teamster history.”
“And you were part of the strike and the union bosses knew who you were?”
“Yes.” And that was that.
So Labor for the first time in history chooses some random woman to be on their slate to be elected a delegate to the presidential convention; the actual Teamster gets bumped by a high school senior, but the random woman’s partner happens to be a hardcore Teamster that they actually know. Life is strange–so is presidential politics..