Behind the scenes at the DNC: Of mesh vests and Bradley Cooper

Insider’s note: Rebecca Walldorff is a longtime Democratic strategist from Georgia who has a rare glimpse at the behind-the-scenes shenanigans at her party’s quadrennial bashes. She’s writing the occasional column for the Insider blog to shed some light on the Democratic National Convention. You can find her first column here, her second piece here and her third one here.  Here’s her fourth installation:

By Rebecca Walldorff:

PHILADELPHIA – There are endless media accounts from this week’s Democratic Convention, but as promised, I went beyond the signs clearly marked “no press allowed” to bring you the nitty-gritty from a staff prospective. Weaving my way through the labyrinth of security checks to the Club Suites, it’s key to maintain an air of confidence at each stop.

No media allowed!

No media allowed!

Even with the right credentials, those wearing yellow security vests grill you at the door.  Because power in politics is about access. And during their yellow-mesh-vest wearing time, they control the power.

“You gotta pass for this floor?” Mesh Vest asks.

I flash my pass. Mesh Vest turns it over.

“What’s this?” she asks.

“It’s a sticky note reminding me to call my neighbor. She’s watching my cat. He’s a tabby.”

Mesh Vest is disgusted, but I get in.

Here’s the scene in the suite: Bradley Cooper shares box seats with former White House staff, a guy who once sold a car to Bill Clinton in Little Rock in the 1970s and had thus formed an impenetrable bond, and a Cabinet Secretary.

Cooper has terrific hair, but the Cabinet Secretary is the one signing autographs – the clear rock star of the three.  While Republicans have a Twitter fit at the sight of Cooper, Democratic staffers clambered to hear tales from the former President’s car dealer. That’s politics.

For authentic convention energy, you lose access to the private restroom and open bar in the box and head down the stairs to the floor, where there was a strict no standing around policy.  One was forced to march, back and forth, from one end of the Wells Fargo Center the other in a sweaty leaderless parade. Signs reading “STRONGER” and “TOGETHER” waved, a sea of red, white, and blue adjectives and adverbs. The signs are helpful, but not everyone had bought in.

Of those well-reported scattered chants of dissension – which there were – for me they seemed somewhat fitting.  After all, the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 drew 55 delegates from 12 states to hash out an entirely new form of government.

Rebecca Walldorff's view from the DNC floor.

Rebecca Walldorff’s view from the DNC floor.

Back then, no press was invited on purpose, to shield the public from the fighting, and by all accounts the founding fathers fought like hell. Imagine this convention being held where press had no access –  like in the box suite with me, Cooper and the auto dealer from Arkansas. Sure, there would be tons of great ideas (free undercoating on every car comes to mind) and even greater hair, but for democracy’s sake, I’ll take the jeers.

As the confetti fell, tears fell. Emotions carried through the night and into the day, at after-hour parties that dwindled in numbers until it was just exhausted colleagues turned friends for life on a couch at the Lowes Hotel. We shared a moment in history, but there’s no rest for the weary. As staff, there is scant time to reflect. It’s Saturday, and like on the floor at the convention, there’s no standing around. We follow our leader, and that leader is the General Election.

Rebecca Walldorff has held numerous positions on the national stage including in the White House, the U.S. Senate, as Senior Advisor to Edwards for President 2004, and as Chief of Staff to Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan.  She’s come full circle and will be providing the AJC some of the behind-the-scenes tales of the Democratic Convention.

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