Democratic Party supporters, patiently waiting outside the Ronald E. Dellums Federal Building in downtown Oakland Friday, did their best to muster political fervor despite the early hour. But it wasn’t until shortly before President Clinton’s arrival that the crowd really came alive.
MC, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, tried to rally the crowd of approximately 2,000, many of whom began waiting in line to pass through Secret Service metal detectors at 7 a.m.
“We are here to continue Bill Clinton’s administration and that’s what this rally is all about,” Carson yelled into the microphones, visibly jolting some of the crowd.
Clinton, and a impressive group of state and local politicians, appeared at the rally ostensibly to promote Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, for re-election to the 9th District.
But the event was really a thinly disguised pep rally for Vice President Al Gore’s bid for the presidency. Recent polls of California voters show Gore, who had a large lead over Republican nominee Gov. George W. Bush in the state, is now treading water with a lead of 5 percentage points.
Gore has said he wanted to run as his own man in the campaign and has distanced himself from the president. But with the race so tight in the state, which has 54 electoral votes – a fifth of the 270 needed to win the presidency – Clinton has been brought off the bench. The president appeared at three rallies Friday: in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose.
A string of the most influential Democratic leaders in the state took the stage to promote Al Gore. Berkeley’s Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek told supporters to remember to vote. “I want to especially remind younger African Americans, that people have died for your right to vote, so do your duty,” she said.
Other speakers included Sen. Barbara Boxer, Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.
Despite the succession of state dignitaries and fiery party bluster, the crowd reserved most its enthusiasm for the president.
Carson announced there would be a break before the president arrived and the Oakland Youth Chorus broke into song. The chorus was in the middle of Christmas rehearsals when the managing director, Bea Andrade received a last-minute call to perform at the event. Because of the rush, Andrade said the chorus did not have time to prepare a list of event-appropriate tunes.
One of the five numbers the chorus performed was Antonio Carlos Jobin’s “One Night Samba,” which has a chorus of “Talk and talk and talk and never say anything.” Then, shortly after a secret service agent placed the Presidential Seal on the front of the podium signaling the imminent arrival of the President, the 30-member chorus began a lively rendition of the Fats Waller favorite “Ain’t Misbehavin.’”
Once the chorus finished, a recording of “Hail to the Chief” blasted over the speakers and the president bounded onto the stage accompanied by Gov. Gray Davis and Rep. Barbara Lee. Davis and Lee said a few words of introduction and the president came to the podium and addressed the crowd.
He acknowledged Mayor Jerry Brown as a longtime friend and speculated that “When I’m kicked out of office, maybe somebody will let me be a mayor somewhere.”
Clinton strongly promoted Gore and also took the opportunity to run down the list of his administration’s accomplishments. He especially focused on unemployment saying that unemployment for blacks and Hispanics was cut in half during the last eight years.
After the rally, Ann Collins, 64, was walking back to her job at the Federal Building. “This was the first rally I’ve ever been to and I was very proud to be able to see the president,” she said.
She had decided to vote for Gore because of the president’s ability to appoint justices to the Supreme Court. But she said she has reservations about the Democrats’ penchant for estate taxes.
Nine Berkeley Earth First members made their way to the center of the crowd and held up signs denouncing the Plan Colombian, a program in which the United States is giving millions of dollars to the Colombian military to fight the “drug war.” They also chanted “People before profits” and “Globalization sucks.” Supporters quickly pulled down their signs.
Earth First member Elijah Corella, a UC Berkeley student, said they were threatened and one supporter purposely stepped on his brother’s foot.
At the end of Clinton’s speech, in which he described the sustained prosperity during his two terms, he quoted President Harry Truman “Remember, if you want to live like a Republican you have to vote like a Democrat.”
Across the Bay, Clinton’s appearance at the Moscone Center in San Francisco came off as a who’s who pageant of Northern California Democrats. Mayor Willie Brown hosted the rally, exhibiting his usual jocular showmanship. Brown joked, smiled, clapped and danced. He drew a lot of laughs when telling about a visit to the White House when he stayed in the Lincoln bedroom. Making a brief allusion to slavery, Brown said he chose to stay in that bedroom because he “figured I kind of owed him.” He said he took a picture of himself in the bathroom mirror so that he could prove he had stayed in the famed bedroom, and joked about taking lots of souvenirs with him when he left. “I walked out of there with everything that wasn’t tied down,” said Brown. “I’ve been giving White House Christmas gifts for years.”
The mayor introduced Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the next House whip, and she spoke to the crowd about the importance of winning back a Democratic congress.
The Rev. Cecil Williams and his wife, San Francisco’s poet laureate Janice Marikatani, also addressed the crowd.
Two choirs performed before the President spoke. A high school ensemble, Touch of Class Choir, sang and danced some soulful R&B. The house choir from Glide Memorial Church sang gospel music and remained on the stage when President Clinton spoke. Willie Brown said that the ethnically diverse choir made a beautiful backdrop for the President’s speech in San Francisco .
When Clinton finally came out – wearing Golden State colors with a blue shirt and gold tie, and brown cowboy boots – he was joined by Governor Gray Davis, businessman Walter Shorenstein and baseball great Willie Mays. Shorenstein started to introduce the President and an impatient crowd began to cheer for Clinton to speak. Shorenstein, a wealthy developer and major contributor to the Democratic party, used his introductory speech to derail the Republican platform. “I’m part of the group that would receive that greatest benefits from the Bush tax plan,” he said. “But I find it obscene.”
Clinton began his speech by thanking many of the people who put on the event. He also thanked Willie Mays for attending, saying that Mays had been a hero of his for over forty years.
Touching on issues such as economic prosperity, low crime, high levels of college attendance, and reproductive rights, Clinton drew wild cheers from the crowd. The good feeling continued as he talked about the recent census figures which indicate that California is the first state with no ethnic majority. “There is no majority. We’re all just here, folks,” he said.
Outside the conventions center, supporters of both Nader and Bush staged vocal protests.