January 17, 2019

Conventioneer Confidential

They are a grass-roots activist, a lawyer, a professional Democratic Party leader, and a grandmother who got her law degree at 62. They are all going to the Democratic National Convention. Some have gone to conventions for 50 years, and some are going for the first time. For all of them, it is a moment of high expectations and keen excitement.

Alan Friedenthal, Rosalind Wyman, Mollie “Lee” Welinsky and Joyce Rubin are disparate people with certain common goals. They have a bedrock commitment to such core Democratic Party issues as reproductive choice, education, equal opportunity, reasonably priced prescription drugs, the rights of seniors, and unequivocal support of Israel. They are all particularly concerned about the future composi-tion of the Supreme Court. One of the four would have preferred Bill Bradley as the nominee; three have been for Al Gore from the start.

Alan Friedenthal, 44, was a Bradley delegate who now supports Al Gore “wholeheartedly.” An attorney and juvenile court referee, Friedenthal has been active in Democratic Party politics since he was 16. This is his first convention. Why is he going?

“I’m very issue-oriented,” he explains. “I’m concerned about the composition of the Supreme Court. The choice issue is very important. I want to see that the platform on Israel is not just some canned, pre-rehearsed, focused-study-to-death platform.”

But what does a delegate actually do? Friedenthal is candid about it. “A delegate just listens to a lot of speeches,” he says, “votes in the nominating process for the nominees, and votes the platform up or down. I have a feeling that’s basically a package deal that’s approved almost by acclamation just for a show of unity. And of course a delegate parties, shmoozes and networks a lot.”

Dubbed by some “the doyenne of the Democratic Party,” Rosalind W. Wyman is currently co-chair of the Dianne Feinstein reelection campaign and served as co-chair of the 1992 and 1994 Feinstein campaigns. She has attended every convention as a delegate since 1952 (except 1968). Wyman, now 70, entered the Los Angeles City Council at the age of 22 and was the youngest elected legislator in a major U.S. city. She served for 12 years (1953-1965), earning particular renown for her drive to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles. She was on the site selection committee this year and was instrumental in the selection of Los Angeles for the convention.

“The Supreme Court is at stake,” Wyman says. “How do you dramatize that for people? The masses don’t realize how the Supreme Court affects their lives. We are at a real crossroads.

“The Democrats must take back the House,” she continues. “I want my dear friend, Congressman Nancy Pelosi, to become the first woman to become whip. And I want Jane Harman to return to Congress for sure. Yes, I’m Jewish, but by God I care about the Supreme Court, and I care about choice and equal pay for equal women.”

Wyman has vivid memories of past conventions. “I was a city councilperson in charge of arrangements in 1960 when we nominated John Kennedy,” she recalls. “I was part of a decision to take the convention outdoors to the Coliseum – the first time since FDR. I was sitting with Bobby Kennedy and Larry O’Brien in a room. The Coliseum held 100,000, and they were dubious. ‘This will be great, we’ll let everybody come, instead of making it so closed,’ I said. Bobby turned to me and said, ‘If we don’t get the people, I don’t want to talk to you again.’ But we did. I called every labor union, every Democratic club I ever knew in my life. And it turned out really phenomenal, a great moment.”

I came to Mollie “Lee” Welinsky through her son, Howard, founder and leader of Democrats for Israel. She was hesitant to talk at first: “I really need to say that my son is not an objective person. I’m his mother!” Now 72, Lee Welinsky is a lifetime Democratic Party activist. She speaks with a sweet, simple directness. She has been a delegate to the state Democratic Party convention for the past six years but has never been to a national convention before.

Welinsky, who retired from the Santa Monica Rent Control Board in May, received her law degree from West Los Angeles School of Law in 1990. She is a member of the labor caucus, the women’s caucus, and the Afro-American Caucus. About the latter, she explains: “The 47th Assembly District committee is 60 percent Black, 40 percent white and mostly Jewish. They asked me to join them. I said, ‘Hey, I don’t exactly fit into your idea of an African American.’ But they wanted me, and I’ve been a member for six years. We have an excellent relationship.”

Welinsky was elected as a delegate on a labor community slate in the 32nd Congressional District. “It was really very thrilling to have wound up as the top woman’s vote getter,” she says. She is excited but realistic about the convention: “I know that everything is going to be decided before we go. It’s not like it used to be, I realize that. But I am a tried and true Democrat. I never wanted to be anything but a Democrat. I’m looking forward to the feeling we’ll take away from the convention, buoyed up by the knowledge this is the best ticket for the country, and we have to work to make it happen, to reach out. You know, the Democratic Party is such a melange of people. We hug each other and we know each other. We don’t look like the Republicans do.”

Joyce Rubin, a TV film producer and articulate speaker, is going to her second convention in a row. She defines herself as a “grass-roots activist” and is very proud of the fact. “The Jewish community gave me an opportunity to take something I had an interest in and go through all these stages of being nurtured and mentored: going through the process with Jewish eyes in the political system.”

Rubin went from being a guest with a visitors’ pass to a state Democratic convention ten years ago to being a delegate on the national level in 1992 and 1996. (This year she beat Gloria Allred for the honor). In 1992 she was first elected to the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee, and she has been re-elected to it ever since.

The benefits of going to a convention in 1996 far exceeded what she had anticipated and explain her high excitement about this year’s proceedings.”There were so many events you don’t know about in advance,” Rubin says. “The National Jewish Democratic Council had a breakfast which was the hottest ticket for activists, with all the Jewish cabinet members. Then at night it was the George party, the hottest ticket of all. I watched Tom Brokaw trying to talk his way in. And there as I walked in there was the Kennedy clan. I shook hands with John. You would go into a room and there was Arianna Huffington sitting around with Barney Frank. You’re seeing these people partying. We wound up at Michael Jordan’s place. You see the newscasters weaving their way through the aisles, like Leslie Stahl. Right behind us in a box we saw Chelsea and Tipper and Hillary. And Chelsea will sometimes come down and walk through the floor, and you get to meet her. You get invited to all this, you get wonderful thank yous from everyone.”Rubin pauses and speaks of Roz Wyman and Lee Welinsky with admiration. “The women you’re writing about have been very important to me. I’ve looked at them both as inspirations. Roz has been a mentor to me. To still see her at a convention, while she continues to come to Federation and JCRC meetings – she’s not putting aside her Jewish community concerns by any means. Then you’ve got someone like Lee, who’s also very important in her local club affiliations in the Democratic Party, her total commitment. There are a lot of these ladies. There are treasures out there. It’s important to be aware of what they’ve done. We’re all going to be there on the convention floor, and we’re all going to be there as Jewish women.”Howard Welinsky, a three-time delegate who is a member of the platform committee this year, sums up the pros and cons of being a delegate. “To be brutally candid,” he says, “a delegate is just a prop for TV.

And yet, he adds, “I’ve had some of the most exciting weeks of my life as a delegate. The media is all over you. A lot of the delegates are average grass-roots people. They’re not professional politicians. They’re never going to run for office. But they enjoy participating in politics. This is like their Super Bowl.”