SHOW: All Things Considered (9:00 PM ET) - NPR
July 29, 2004 Thursday
HEADLINE: Behind the scenes of the Democratic convention with Representative Bill Pascrell
ANCHORS: ROBERT SIEGEL; MICHELE NORRIS
REPORTERS: ROBERT SMITH
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Dozens of Democrats have had time slots at the FleetCenter podium this week, and most of their speeches have not been carried by the big networks. Even the delegates probably weren't listening. But in politics this kind of nod from the national party can be very valuable.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Earlier a congressman from Paterson, New Jersey, Bill Pascrell, spoke about homeland security. Pascrell is running for re-election this November, so the exposure is welcome. But it's far from the only event on his agenda this week, as NPR's Robert Smith found out.
ROBERT SMITH reporting:
Congressman Bill Pascrell is the kind of guy who gives you a nickname 10 seconds after he first meets you.
Representative BILL PASCRELL (Democrat, New Jersey): Ready, Smitty?
SMITH: We're on the way to an unmarked office at the convention, where the congressman will practice his three-minute speech. Pascrell stops to shake the hand of every cop he passes, and in Boston this week that can take up a lot of time.
Rep. PASCRELL: Guys, proud of you. Congressman Pascrell from New Jersey.
Unidentified Man #1: Thank you.
Rep. PASCRELL: Pushing for you guys all the time.
SMITH: Pascrell got offered the afternoon speech time at the convention because he was an early supporter of Kerry's. He was told he had three minutes to talk about homeland security and keep it positive. Up in the practice room Pascrell says he worried that one part of the speech might be a little too edgy.
Rep. PASCRELL: 'Our cops, firefighters and emergency management technicians desperately need more than pious rhetoric.' They liked it; they kept it in there. I was surprised. Very frankly, I figured they're going to yank that. Now do we want to be nuns, or do we have to be-you know?
SMITH: The speech he hopes will get him a little notice, and afterwards his re-election campaign is throwing a party for the congressman. In convention-speak, that's usually code for 'fund-raiser.' But Pascrell says he's not in Boston to fund his re-election.
Rep. PASCRELL: A lot of the congressmen have fund-raisers up here. I don't. I'm throwing a party. I didn't make it a fund-raiser. I want people to have fun. And I think this is what they should do when they go to a convention instead of being bothered by, 'I need your help.'
SMITH: But parties at the convention are about making relationships, and in politics relationships often lead to money. If anyone offers a check, Pascrell tells them...
Rep. PASCRELL: 'Wait till Monday. Monday I'm going to give you a call and get together,' something to that effect.
SMITH: Not that he needs much more money for this campaign. He's in a safe Democratic seat, and he's already raised three-quarters of a million dollars. After a long wait Pascrell is led into another room for the formal critique of his speech. Reporters are not allowed to follow. But on the way back to his hotel, he says the speech got only a minor edit: EMT stands for emergency medical technician, and the suggestion that he use fewer gestures.
Rep. PASCRELL: Talking and gesturing at the same time, I got to watch it. I always talk with my hands.
SMITH: Back at the hotel the congressman's real workout begins, the first of a string of cocktail parties. Hands shoot out of the crowd to greet him.
Rep. PASCRELL: How's everything...
Unidentified Man #2: Good.
Rep. PASCRELL: ...with you? All right?
Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, very well. My sister's doing fine, too.
SMITH: The party's paid for by a hospital association. The congressman's breakfast event was sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. Lobbyists stream by to say hello. Special interests are a fact of life at any political event, and Pascrell says the lobbyists at the convention use a lighter touch.
Rep. PASCRELL: For instance, I met a couple of railroad guys up here, unions, and we were talking about some issues dealing with unions. I mean, that's gone on. But most situation where a lobby is cornering me, I don't think-you know what? Give the lobbyists some credit, too. They know when they keep at arm's length and when not to.
SMITH: Two of his sons are in the lobbying business. David Pascrell lobbies for health-care and insurance interests at the New Jersey state capital. He says the conventions are often a great place to cement relationships with political officials, other than his dad.
Mr. DAVID PASCRELL (Lobbyist): It's somewhere where you can get a lot of work done. And they're all familiar faces, but you don't get a chance because they're very busy people to get to talk to them on a regular basis and for four days in a row. So...
SMITH: Congressman Pascrell has a small drink, but he never sits down, never stops shaking hands. Another lobbyist who got about 20 seconds of face time said afterward that he just wanted to remind Pascrell who he was and send the signal that they were all rooting for the same team. Pascrell, for his part, simply moves on through the crowd. He has to make it to a dinner with the New Jersey governor and then on to the convention floor.
Around midnight last night Congressman Pascrell emerges from an elevator on the 33rd floor of an office tower in Boston. It's another party, and Pascrell looks tired. His suit's wrinkled, and he says his feet hurt. His goal for this party?
Rep. PASCRELL: I'm just going to go in there and relax. That's all.
SMITH: But Pascrell seems to regain his energy when he sees the dim room filled with elected officials and lobbyists. There's a flurry of bear hugs, kisses, arm-grasping. Everybody gets 'the touch.' An hour later he's only made it 20 feet into the party, and he's still shaking hands. Robert Smith, NPR News, Boston.
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.