Arianna Huffington’s Shadow Convention provided the discussion of politics and the political economy missing from the Republican National Convention. But some reporters avoided the cab ride to the University of Pennsylvania Shadow Convention site and worked South Philadelphia’s blue-collar neighborhoods near the Republican event.
Oteri’s Food Market at Eleventh and Federal, near the Italian Market, has been owned by the same South Philadelphia family since before World War II. Today, it’s run by two brothers with an “I got your pepperoni right here” attitude. From the stool in front of the butcher’s counter, a reporter can eat a cheese steak or a hoagie and keep his finger on the erratic pulse of South Philly. Everyone who walks in is a character. And everyone has an opinion — whether you ask for it or not.
On Mumia Abu-Jamal: “Mumia’s guilty and will get what he deserves. The Mumia people are thugs. They sent death threats to Faulkner’s widow. She can’t even live here anymore. So I don’t know why they’re protesting out there. This is Pennsylvania. We don’t kill people like Texas. And we got better lawyers. I read The New York Times. I read about the guy they killed a couple of weeks ago who wasn’t guilty [Gary Graham]. A black guy with a black lawyer who didn’t even call a witness. I’m looking at the death penalty and I’m going to stay with an incompetent lawyer because he’s the same race? As soon as he saw the lawyer wasn’t doing the job, he should have fired him and called a Jew. Get a Jew. That’s what you do when you need a lawyer.… You get a Jew. Now they want to name a street after Danny Faulkner (the cop Mumia was convicted of killing). It’s a tragedy he was killed. But he was on the force eighteen months. We don’t know if he was a good cop or a lousy cop. He could have been a pick, a lot of them are. I got more time in the bathroom than he had on the force and they’re naming a street. You know who’s doing this. Geno’s. You been there? You see how clean it is? How polite they act? I think they’re Christians. This is South Philadelphia; we’re supposed to be rude. If I want a steak sandwich, I go to Pat’s, across the street. It’s Geno’s where they are trying to get the street named after him.”
On the Convention Protests: “I been watching for three days and I still don’t know what the hell they’re protesting about. Homeless, abortion, Mumia, death penalty, Bush, animal rights. With a bus full of animals? That itself is cruel to animals. I watch the news. I saw them marching. I still don’t know. My brother took two days off because he couldn’t drive his truck when they blocked the streets. If they want to protest, they should tell people what they’re protesting about.”
On the Convention: “Maybe it’s good for the city. They never clean the subways up for us. Now they got cops on the street. They got cops on the subway. Maybe we’re safer. They polished the floors and put posters in the subway. The only thing I ever saw hanging on the wall in the subway is somebody else’s urine. The speeches are boring. They ought to be ashamed putting The Rock up there. What’s professional wrestling got to do with politics?”
On the Candidates: “They got all the minorities up on stage to tell how Bush and Cheney are going to help the poor working people. They got Colin Powell talking about how he’ll help the blacks. And they’re all full of shit. I heard Cheney last night. But I’m not voting for him. Remember Reagan, the lying son of a bitch. What did he do? I’m not voting for them. I’ll vote for Gore. Maybe I’m going to vote for Nader.”
Abortion: “I know what they say about abortion. You know what? Goddamn abortion. You do what you want with your body. Thirty years ago a doctor told me he was going to cut off my balls. Cut off my balls! I went home and soaked them in alcohol. And I never had any trouble. That’s what I think about abortion.”
Dinner With Delay
Away from the stage, at the A-List parties where lobbyists, congressmen, and corporate executives meet to do business, the racial demographics were distinctly different from the minority-rules event at the convention hall. The Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC) reception in the elegant atrium of the Curtis Building across the street from Independence Hall attracted major players in the Texas Congressional and State House delegations: U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, State Senator David Sibley, State Representative Tom Craddick, State Senator Jeff Wentworth. Even East Texas State Rep Tommy Merritt – who became something of a state party outcast last legislative session, when he tried to persuade Governor Bush to support the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Bill – was present. The only black person at the reception was a radiantly beautiful young woman who attends Temple University and was hired by the caterer to serve hors d’oeuvres to the guests.
The evening had a few unseemly moments, such as when Bob Ross of ABC News and this reporter asked Tom DeLay to name the corporate donors to ARMPAC and the corporate underwriters of the convention. ARMPAC is the political action committee through which DeLay funnels anonymous corporate and individual contributions to select Republican congressional races. DeLay refused to reveal any names and attacked both reporters from the stage for being “cynical” and “trying to create a story where there is none.” He seemed more at ease when the Channel 2 newsguy from Houston asked: “What does it feel like to you, not only as the Majority Whip, but as the Congressman from Sugar Land, to see Texas take such a strong center stage at this convention?”
“We’re excited about this convention,” DeLay said. He was also excited about the ARMPAC reception. At the event, DeLay, who runs ARMPAC, was receiving an award – from an aerospace contracting company – for his dedication to the space program.
One big star of the Republican right attending the ARMPAC reception was Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, a former federal prosecutor who was one of the most vocal critics of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Barr practices the old-school, slash-and-burn politics that Republican consultant Frank Luntz would like to see the party forego, and although he can be engaging, on this occasion he didn’t seem pleased with the food. “What’s this grass on the meat?” he groused after sampling Chef Max Hansen’s seared filet mignon on croutons with baby arugula and caramelized shallots.
Perhaps Barr was joking about the shallots, but in defense of Chef Hansen, the food was exceptional. The Russian potato chips with crème fraiche and beluga caviar were exquisite. The kippered cranberries anointing the fois gras mousse atop a croustade provided a perfectly surprising contrast to the paté. The peeled jumbo shrimp were cooked to perfection – not a single rubbery shrimp among the several dozen we sampled. And the bruschetta with olives, capers, and Italian parsley was both a lovely presentation and a perfect medley of tastes. The only slight disappointment was the wild mushroom tartlets with fresh chervil, which were just a bit dense.
Barr did seem to appreciate the chef’s smoked salmon Napoleons with chive crème fraiche and sevruga caviar, so perhaps he’s more of a dairy products devotee –which would explain the 1998 news reports of Barr’s licking the whipped cream off the breasts of a topless dancer performing at a charity bash. The story broke (or was leaked) at the time when Barr was most relentlessly and rabidly critical of Clinton’s womanizing.
The Congressman was, however, elated with the platform and the ticket. He called Dick Cheney a perfect decision by Bush and observed that “anyone the liberals hate as much as they hate Dick Cheney has got to be first rate.” The real genius of the Philadelphia convention was keeping Barr, DeLay, Dick Armey, and others who define the party’s extreme right far from the stage so that Bush, Cheney, and the party platform could be sold as centrist and moderate.
It was much easier to swallow the kippered cranberries. – L.D.