The Comeback Kid

3 06 2013

The convention roared to life on a Friday night with the arrival of former President Bill Clinton. “Bubba” — as he is affectionately known — was brought in to shepherd the Obama/Biden campaign to victory in a way no other politician could. Clinton could sell the President’s plans because he could communicate in ways Obama could not. Blue collar workers, independents and conservative Democrats were willing to listen to Clinton even if he is basically sharing the same message as Obama. Those voters remembered the 1990s and while Bubba had his problems keeping sexual desires in check, the economy under the Clinton Administration was booming.

In Charlotte, Clinton did what he needed to do — rev up the base with cold hard facts in the process calling out Republican wonder boy and Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan for his underhandedly “brass” tactics. It was vintage Clinton, the crowd loving every minute and it came at just the right time. Leading up to Clinton’s speech there were manufactured controversies afloat from the proper place of God in the party platform to should the convention’s final night be staged at nearby Bank of America Stadium. The irony of Obama delivering his convention speech inside a stadium named for a bank that received the biggest government bailout seemed lost on many tone deaf DC insiders.

Meanwhile, David continued to get me into high level events and functions as we rubbed elbows with senators, congressmen, media elites and high profile candidates. Meeting Barney Frank was especially fun. Frank, the openly gay congressman from Massachusetts, is a longtime liberal warrior and widely respected for his knowledge of financial issues. At a luncheon headlined by First Lady Michelle Obama, I nudged my way to the front of the room and got our picture taken with Barney. We all three were smiling from ear to ear.

Michelle baring arms

Michelle baring arms

Like Clinton, the First Lady was a real crowd pleaser who attracted attention with her wardrobe decision to “bare arms.” Michelle Obama had made fitness and healthy eating a major part of her agenda as First Lady, giving overweight Southerners yet another reason to loathe her husband. I had met Mrs. Obama before, during the summer of 2010 as my campaign for the state house was just beginning and so too was the fallout from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Michelle Obama came to Panama City Beach to address concerns of the spill, but before she could step foot on our sugary white sand beaches, she was greeted with an ignorant redneck response that is so common in the region. Postings across social media, on internet sites and echoed through talk radio did not exactly roll out the red carpet for Michelle and ultimately forced her appearance to take place in front of a limited, small audience of community leaders and local officials. As the Democratic nominee for state rep, I made the cut and was able to get a spot along the rope line just yards from the Gulf where I thanked the First Lady for coming. I then told her, I was running for state rep, to which she replied, “Oh you must really be hurting.” To this day, that response still puzzles me. I was hurting that summer. A lot of folks were. Fast forward to the end of the summer of 2012 and the hurt remained. A nation was bitterly divided.

As the convention’s final day loomed, the DNC braintrust decided to move proceedings from the originally scheduled Bank of America Stadium indoors to Time Warner Arena. They said it was due to inclement weather, but it was also a face saving move for the President. A half empty football stadium would have been a horrible image to overcome this late in the campaign. There was also a noticeable energy gap to deal with particularly among young people who were vital to the 2008 campaign of “Yes We Can.” Bank of America had gotten their bailout, but not these kids.

What happened next I’ll never forget. David gave up his seat for me. It was a incredible act of kindness, generosity and sacrifice. The nominating process was complete and all that remained was the pageantry. I would attend the convention on his delegate pass, sit in his seat, listen to the President’s speech and absorb all the evening had to offer. For a lifelong political nerd this was the ultimate show. And the curtain was rising on a comeback.

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On the Ground in Charlotte

24 05 2013

I landed in Charlotte with a headstorm of energy — and Democrats sure needed it. Dismal employment numbers and the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) had left the President’s re-election campaign in a vulnerable position. Luckily, the Republicans had nominated a Plutocrat in Mitt Romney who had failed to energize the Grand Old Party’s base. If anything got Republicans motivated to oust Obama, it was the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare verdict.

Evening hours in downtown Charlotte.

Evening hours in downtown Charlotte.

Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation was wildly unpopular in the Southern red states. It was bad enough they had to accept his Presidency, but a reform of America’s health care system was just too much for Joe Six Pack to take. And yet here, in the heart of the old Confederacy, the Democratic Party had gathered to nominate President Obama for a second term. There were already signs of trouble on the horizon. Romney was leading in the polls in both North Carolina and Florida — states Obama had carried four years ago.

David picked me up at the airport. He rented a car in Panama City and drove up for the convention. I was surprised he had been able to become a delegate. Although the Florida delegation was one of the larger ones, most of the state’s power and influence came from the southeast counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. For someone from the Panhandle to break through all the horse trading that goes on leading up to delegation selection was truly remarkable. I just didn’t think David was quite that shrewd.

He is loyal, however, without a shadow of a doubt and I was glad to see him again. I wondered if he recognized a difference in me.

Our hotel was in downtown Charlotte, which was surrounded and guarded by the largest police and security presence I had ever witnessed. All of the cops in their urban riot gear reminded me of some scenes from the latest Batman movie. The media were everywhere as well. MSNBC had its own “village” where the cable network broadcasted several of its daily shows live to masses of adoring fans. On my first night in town, David and I managed to get close enough to the cameras to show up on Chris Matthews’ Hardball show. During the commercial break, I gave Chris a thumbs up and he smiled. It was a clear connection.

The next morning we attended the Florida delegation breakfast, listening to politician after politician speak about the importance of the upcoming campaign. There we were joined by Pat and Brenda, two ladies from Bay County, who much like David had successfully navigated the delegate selection process into a ticket to Charlotte. Brenda was a fresh new face in Panama City politics, pumping much needed vigor into the women’s club. Pat, a yellow dog Democrat if there ever was one, had been a vital financial supporter of my run for state representative and was known for speaking her mind.

MSNBC host Chris Matthews meets his fans.

MSNBC host Chris Matthews meets his fans.

In a room full of power suits and enormous egos, I came down to breakfast in a pink Lacoste polo, khaki shorts and flip flops. I was comfortable in my own skin and never felt the least bit awkward or intimidated. This was a huge jump from four years ago when I was scared to leave my room, scared to go to Wal-Mart. Just plain scared.

I cannot begin to explain how much the Canyon had worked wonders on my human spirit. All those hikes had filled me with strength and confidence, only now I had the compassion and humility to go with it. The confidence I exuded before from influential journalism jobs was, admittedly, filled with arrogance and entitlement. While I am indeed grateful and fortunate to have lived a life of great privilege for thirtysomething years, the hard times of the last four years had reshaped my world view and given me much needed perspective. I knew the Romney crowd we would be battling. I knew them intimately and I knew their weaknesses. The ground game would be where this campaign would be won.

Forward!





Campaign Memories

20 06 2011

Last night, during a visit to a local bar & grill on the beach, I was asked again if I intended to run for public office.

It’s flattering, I guess. Particularly when it comes from a registered voter. And a government employee, no less.

I told the fellow, that I had no immediate plans of challenging our vaunted State Representative again.

“You have to chip away,” he said.

I appreciated the young man’s encouragement and over a few brews we shared our thoughts on the local political scene. I shared with him, some of the bizarre scenarios I encountered during my run — from the rousing ovation by the Muslim community to boos at a gay bar.

The 2010 campaign was a hard one for all Democrats, but for a political novice in Northwest Florida, it was downright impossible.

I had very little resources and no help from the state party. Still, I stuck to my values and provided an option that 10,000 people bought into.

My presence at the Bay Islamic Society’s annual Ramadan dinner was a fine illustration of the campaign’s message. We were intent on reaching out to everyone in the District to show the value of diversity. How I would be received, however, was in doubt.

The media was still ignoring me at this point. I arrived at the dinner to find a large and welcoming community and when one of the Muslim leaders asked that I address the crowd, I was completely caught off guard.

No speech in hand, I took to the podium and told the crowd that I was their Democratic nominee for the State House of Representatives. Coming into the event, there was an air of bitterness in the campaign rhetoric. The Republican primary for U.S. Congress had been recently decided and, in the closing weeks,  one of the candidates decided to slam Islam at a debate in a cheap attempt to curry favor with religious conservatives.

It didn’t help that this same man shared the first two letters of my last name. He was a “Mic” as the slang goes.

I knew I had to quell tensions in the community, tensions that had also been stoked by one of the local right-wing talk radio clowns.

So, without much preparation, I spoke from the heart that night.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” I said. “And we have to stop hurting each other.”

It was a short and sweet message and I thanked the audience for inviting me to the dinner. The applause I received that night was humbling. As I look back now, it was amazing.

A group of people who have every reason to doubt your intentions and judge your lifestyle showed me compassion and kindness that evening.

After the dinner, a woman approached me, her head covered in traditional Islam clothing. “You said what was on everyone’s mind,” she told me. “Thank you for speaking, Mr. McDonald.”

It was definitely one of the high points of the campaign. One to remember. Our goal all along was to make a difference — and on that night, we did just that.





The Agony of Defeat

21 04 2011

Well, another campaign is in the books. Defeated again.

I had high hopes this time around. We had a quality candidate, adequate resources and energized volunteers. In the end, we just didn’t have enough absentee ballots.

So Panama City has a new Mayor and there is much work to be done. If the Old Guard is to claim victory here then it is incumbent upon those ‘powers that be’ to follow through with the campaign rhetoric and lift this City out of despair.

Panama City needs jobs. Skilled jobs in high tech industry that provide a living wage. We are in danger of losing a generation of talent because of lack of opportunity. This must be addressed.

It is interesting to watch the evolution of a community. Many themes from my campaign were carried on. Issues such as poverty relating to the homeless, revitalization of Downtown and environmental procedures were debated. Hopefully, solutions are on the way.

For all the anti-government rhetoric that seems to dominate any debate in Panama City, the fact still remains that the government is the No. 1 employer here. If the private sector is the job creator, as we are led to believe, it would be nice to see some tangible evidence.

Perhaps this is sour grapes speaking. I have been unemployed going on three years now and this journey has taught me many lessons. I now know how to produce more with less. I understand value in relation to price and, most importantly, I believe in shared sacrifice.

So now the task is to fight off bitterness and the sting of another election loss. There is temptation to fold and look for opportunities elsewhere in a climate more conducive to my thinking.

I tried that before, in New York, and it didn’t work out too well.

Deep down inside, I hold faith in these losing battles as preparation for greater things to come. Perhaps, God is testing me and City leaders are watching to see if I will break.

I won’t.

I’ll find that happy place one day and, trust me, you will know it.





Meeting needs through Action

11 04 2011

“I can throw a major fit when my latte aint how I like it.”

That’s a line from a country song about celebrity status. It can also be used as a shot at the ruling class.

The campaign for Panama City enters its final week now and a new establishment is rising. Endorsements are being made, inside information exchanged and heavy negotiating taking place.

Southern politics at its finest.

Like the line from that country crooner eludes to, entitlements are — at play. The latte is just the beginning. You see, there are those among us that insist ‘Life’ be served to them on silver platters. They’ll interact with you, just as long as it’s on their terms.

It’s often eluded to — although rarely proven — that City elections can be fixed. One might come to the conclusion that City grandfathers and prominent families meet way before the next election cycle to decide the winners. Then they go search for the losers.

And in the process, reality gets in the way. That’s where things don’t always go according to plan.

The Chosen One may find the chores difficult. Lose patience with the questions. Get tired of listening.

It is not easy campaigning. In fact, it is down right hard work. Nobody should be expected to take the Mayor’s office without a fight.

Yes, without a doubt, it is during the process that an electorate sees who really wants the job. Who is capable of understanding needs of a civic-minded society and willing to meet those needs through action.

Legacy is important and so too is progress. The Future starts now.

 





Spring Broken

31 03 2011

The throngs of students is thinning along Florida’s Gulf Coast. I have just returned from a pleasant drive through Panama City Beach. There are still some young bucks and pretty fillies roaming the resorts, but for the most part, the college crowd has returned to their respective campuses. In their wake, is what, my partner David refers to as the “spring broken.”

These are the people who flock to the Beach to cash in on the partying with no intent on furthering their higher education. They usually go the way of the homeless.

Sitting outside of McDonald’s the other day, enjoying my smoothie drink and soaking up the sunshine, I was confronted by one of the Broken. My mistake was making eye contact, which gave him the green light to proceed.

“Hey Brother, can you spare a few dollars so I can get something to eat,” said the Broken man.

It always begins with “Brother.”

During my campaign, I encountered many homeless people. Such was the state of affairs in area crippled by a disastrous oil spill and weak economy. I made it a priority to shine the light on their struggles and to visit organizations dedicated to lending a helping hand.

Sadly, I also found that not every “Broken” person wants a way out of their situation.

“My wife and I are on the street,” the man continued, although their was no sign of this ‘wife’ and he didn’t appear to be starving.

I looked at the man again in the eyes — without uttering a word.

He read my mind and moved along, mumbling to himself all the way. I felt uncompassionate at first, but knowing the street life, I realized he had the ability to find shelter and provisions for his family, if they did exist, and my two cents would have little affect. There are those who are truly in dire circumstances and this man was not one of them. Broken maybe, but still capable of pulling up his boot straps.

Balancing compassion with security has become a major theme of Panama City’s municipal election. What voters need to hear now, more than anything, is a success story. We know the causes of homelessness — mental illness, substance abuse and poverty just to name a few. And we have seen the Broken walking the streets, gathering at the Mission and sleeping on park benches.

What we, as a community, need to see now is the ones who made it out alive. The ones who pulled themselves up by their boot straps and with a little help from Uncle Sam, the Almighty or an unsung guardian angel, graduated to a productive life.

My walk through humility forever changed how I view society. It gave me a unique perspective on the plight of the less fortunate. I can voice my observations and opinions confidently because I have walked in their shoes.

To me, the bottom line to getting out of the bottom of the pit is recognizing where you are.

There is help out there. The first step is seeking it.

 

 





Adopting a New View of Parenting

15 03 2011

We’re in the midst of ‘Spring Break.’ An American rite of passage. And I’m staying as far away from the action as I can.

Been there. Done that.

As a college prepster at Troy, my fraternity brothers and I made the annual trek to PCB to engage in the festive atmosphere. We would hit the beach during the day, chug a lot of beer, talk about sports and gaze at the girls before getting cleaned up for a night at the clubs.

Places like the Boardwalk and the Summit are still etched in my mind. I was such a dork back then. I wasn’t much into physical fitness in college, not like I am now. I was more concerned with equations and hypothesis, particularly when it came to sports teams.

So, I kept my shirt on at the beach. No need to let — as some of my fraternity brothers dubbed it — “the bird chest” out of its cage.

They say college is all about self discovery. I discovered, thanks to my fraternity, the differences and similarities that bring young men together. Beer also breaks down a lot of barriers.

These days, most of my fraternity brothers are married with children. I wonder what it’s like.

Tonight, I attended a presentation on adoption in the State of Florida. The attorney, a Harvard educated Jewish woman from New York, explained the situation for same-sex couples and for the first time, I thought long and hard about fatherhood.

There are so many children in the State’s system in need of loving and caring homes. Crime and poverty have left innocent children yearning for a positive parental environment. This being another discovery from the campaign trial.

The fact that I am no longer drawn to the beach parties or long nights clubbing is a sign that I am ready to begin a new chapter in my life. My relationship with David has truly made me wiser and healthier and I would like nothing more than to continue on that path through mentorship.

Through the course of the campaign, as I visited community after community hit hard by the recession, I came to realize how privileged my childhood was. My parents made many sacrifices in order for my brother and I to live comfortably. This I now see clearly. By the same token, thanks to my travels and adventures as a journalist, I am keenly aware of the dangers out there and influences that can lead to broken homes.

So, in conclusion, if I can make a difference — for the better — in the life of a disadvantaged child, then I feel it is my duty as a humble public servant to volunteer.

And with this I have graduated from ‘Spring Break’ as we have known it.