This was supposed to be State Sen. Kevin Thomas’ first national political convention.
Instead, the Levittown Democrat will be participating “virtually,” through his computer, some 900 miles from Milwaukee, where the party was scheduled to convene before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Rather than sitting in an arena among more than 200 New York delegates at the Democratic National Convention as the party officially casts its vote for its presidential nominee, Thomas said he will get to lead off a few conference calls on Zoom to promote Biden-Harris “watch parties,” among other things.
As for actually casting his vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Thomas, like most convention delegates, already has done so electronically.
As with other Democratic delegates contacted for this story, Thomas said the virtual convention doesn’t match the real thing but it won’t diminish Democrats’ enthusiasm for their presidential ticket.
“It would’ve been awesome. I was looking forward to it,” Thomas said. “But I think there is so much excitement about the ticket. Since the announcement, you can see it.”
The “announcement” was Biden’s selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his vice presidential running mate. Choosing a woman who is Black and Asian American and who is also a former prosecutor could give Biden a chance to boost the Democratic turnout that was lacking in 2016 when Republican Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, some analysts have said.
Typically, the Democratic and Republican national conventions draw thousands to the host city to not only officially nominate a candidate but also host party-building and get-out-the vote strategy sessions. Delegates also usually adopt a party platform.
That will be missing this time. The pandemic has forced the parties to hold “virtual conventions.”
New York State Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said it’s a necessary step, but he’ll miss the pomp.
“You do miss a lot by not having a traditional convention,” said Jacobs, who also is the Nassau County Democratic chairman. “The DNC is doing the best they can under the circumstances. But let’s not kid ourselves: It’s not going to be the razzmatazz and excitement of the usual kickoff of a campaign.”
He said the interaction between speakers and a live audience in an arena is “what gives it energy.”
“The other thing you miss is the interaction with state leaders from across the country,” Jacobs said. “It’s not just the social aspect, but you get an idea of what is working in their states or not working. And you build a kind of network.”
In contrast, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) looks at it this way: Most people experience conventions through television and this year will be much the same.
“Ninety-eight percent of the Democrats who are paying attention to the convention, they’re not at the convention anyway. They are watching at home,” said Heastie, an official New York delegate who also will be watching from home.
The “only downside” of the virtual convention is viewers won’t see the enthusiastic state delegations casting their votes, he said.
Instead, Heastie believes social media will play a huge role in spreading the messages, not only of Biden and Harris but all the convention speakers, which include New Yorkers Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx).
The spectrum of speakers, from progressives to moderates, shows “the party is unified” in this campaign, Heastie said.
The speaker also will be looking forward to hearing Harris, whom he knows personally. Harris was a college roommate of Heastie’s cousin at Howard University, though the speaker said he didn’t really get to know her until she ran for U.S. Senate. He attended New York fundraisers for Harris then, and exchanged texts with her in the days before Biden announced his decision.
Said Heastie: "I think she'll be a great No. 2."