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From Single-Malt Scotch to Al Franken


Tears and cheers in the hall, eating and drinking like the rich and famous, entertaining eavesdroppers after hours, and blowing out the cobwebs with Kennedy, Franken and Dukakis.

Welcome to the Democratic National Convention, the massive event that has consumed me and the city of Denver for the last two days.

Senator Ted Kennedy brought tears to the eyes of more than the Massachusetts delegates with his trademark pull-no-punches delivery and a speech focused on hope during the opening session Monday evening. And that his hope is as much about the upcoming election as it is his precarious health resonated hard with veteran party members.

“It was extremely emotional for all of us,” says Carol A. Donovan, Massachusetts delegate and committeewoman from the 4th Middlesex District, located north of Boston. “I really didn’t expect a speech, but it was the same Ted; all fire and brimstone.”

The morning after the Kennedy tribute saw fellow politicos from the Mass delegation paying additional homage to their presumably mortally ill elder statesman. Nephew and former Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy lent some family bluster to the 7 a.m. gathering at the Renaissance Hotel near Stapleton. Veteran fans of Joe wholeheartedly agreed that he was in fine form, giving one of his best “fire up the troops” speeches, well, ever. Full of verbal cadences and well wrought applause lines, Joe even nailed a McCain zinger that I’m sure his audiences will be hearing more of: “When a guy needs a second or third or fourth mortgage, it’s usually on the same house.”

Following Joe was wannabe incumbent slayer and former Saturday Night Live writer and comedian Al Franken. Working desperately to match Minnesota senator Norm Coleman’s $12 million war chest, Franken was working the Massachusetts gang for donations being as how their two democratic senators, Kennedy and John Kerry, won’t be facing any kind of meaningful opposition in the near future.

Franken is decidedly dry and far from animated in his delivery. His humor, and it is spot on when he wants it to be, is understated and intellectual. But his stump speech was more about illustrative facts and anecdotes than humor, such as pointing out that the World Health Organization places the United States 28th in the world for health care, between Costa Rica and Slovenia, “and Slovenia is on the march.”

But it was the end of Franken’s bit where he had the room laughing hard for several minutes. A big man next to the podium had his cell phone go off and the loud, obnoxious ring tone put the whole room on hold. Franken, without missing a beat leaned over to the highly embarrassed man and said, “I hope you need a liver.” As explanation, Franken said he reprimanded a woman once when her cell phone went off and “it turned out she needed a liver…. She got a call, a motorcycle accident or something.” So now he always asks.

Back to last night. I got a bit tied up and couldn’t file until today.

Following the Kennedy tribute, Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, delivered a warm, personal keynote speech that outlined her husband’s family history and his rise against improbable odds to arrive where he is today. Both of their stories are compelling, but the buzz following her keynote address was how cute their two daughters were. Malia and Sasha could only be described as cute and definitely ensured that mom’s speech was sealed with a homey finale.

The speech ended right on time and the delegates launched a veritable stampede to the dozens of (mostly private) parties that filled venues all over downtown. The massive throw-downs are largely bankrolled by lobbyists and when it comes to influence, 30-year-old Scotch and filet mignon hours-d-oveurs go a long way to creating a positive impression of the Distilled Spirits Trade Association. At least in my somewhat hazy book.

It was there, at the invitation-only event held at Baca nightclub, that dancers for the Mammoth pro lacrosse team offered guests premium cigars to go with the decades-old single-malt Scotch being served. Hometown favorites Devotchka played the gig and, like a good single-malt, converted several to their acquired taste of music.

After hours parties were also to be found in abundance, but the crowd became decidedly younger as the late night turned into early morning. Me, my head turned back into a pumpkin at about 3 a.m. and I crawled into the borrowed bed of my friend, Erin, looking to recharge for another round.

— James Burrus, Yellow Scene Magazine

More DNC coverage here.

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