Los Angeles — As Sen. Joseph Lieberman sets out on the campaign trail, New York delegates to the Democratic National Convention and party leaders expressed confidence that he would not be used as an attack dog against the Republican opposition — a role traditionally given to the vice presidential nominee.
“That’s not Lieberman’s style,” said Terrence McAuliffe, the convention chairman, following a breakfast address to the New York delegation. “Lieberman will not be negative. He will draw a contrast between what would be done under Gore-Lieberman and under Bush-Cheney.”
McAuliffe said Lieberman’s speech to the convention at the Staples Center was a chance to introduce himself to the American people.
“This is his opportunity to show who he is and what he cares about,” he said of the first Jewish vice presidential nominee of a major political party. “He’s a decent and honest guy and a centrist Democrat — all the right things for us.”
Lieberman’s selection sends a message that the Democrats are “about the future,” McAuliffe added, “and Cheney’s selection is a return to the past.”
A major party supporter, Stanley Chesley of Cincinnati, said Lieberman brings to the ticket “good common sense” and he should concentrate on the positions that divide the two parties.
“He has to go after them on the issues, not their personalities,” he said.
On the other hand, Chesley said questions should be raised about the background of Texas Gov. George W. Bush because “nothing is known about him between the time he was 18 until he was elected governor in 1994.
“I’m not attacking him,” Chesley said, “but how can you have a 30-year gap in your life and not discuss it?”
Manhattan City Councilman Stanley Michaels said the best thing that could have happened to the Democrats is that Arizona Sen. John McCain did not win the Republican nomination for president. Lieberman, he said, pulls in McCain voters because of his integrity.
“They have to let Lieberman go to areas where McCain is strong, to areas of the Midwest and the South. He has to go to the Bible Belt. They should not try to hide him [from those areas],” said Michaels.
Added New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg: “I wouldn’t write off any part of the country.”
Michaels said McCain’s supporters in New York would “definitely go to Gore and Lieberman” because the state’s Republican leaders initially had kept McCain off the New York ballot. “They alienated McCain voters,” he said.
The buzz early this week among New Yorkers who came here either with a spouse or a friend in the hope of getting into the convention hall was not about Gore’s convention appearance Thursday night but rather about how to get into the hall for Lieberman’s Wednesday acceptance speech.
“Wednesday’s the night I just must be there,” said one Jewish activist.
“This may be the most important election ever held in the United States as far as the Jewish community is concerned,” said Michaels. “[Lieberman’s selection] is an immense step forward in the history of Jews in the U.S. Lieberman is someone who proclaims his Judaism and does not try to hide it. He is someone who lives his religion in everyday life and it is extremely important to him.”
Rockland County Legislator Ryan Karben agreed, saying: “This is a great week to be a Jew, a Democrat, an American. This convention is a celebration of the American dream — and that resonates for every ethnic group that has struggled to make it. It’s an American story. Lieberman proves you can be a leader by following your conscience.”
Honey Miller, a delegate from Queens, said that although she did not believe a vice presidential candidate wins an election, this year might be an exception.
Another delegate, model Christie Brinkley, who was sporting a button reading “Another New Yorker for Hillary,” said she didn’t “know a lot about [Lieberman], but his persona is so charming and likeable.”
She said she “loves the idea that [Lieberman] is going to give another angle, another opinion” on different issues. But Brinkley said she heard Lieberman say that “if his opinion differs from Gore’s, he will [nevertheless] support him 100 percent. I don’t think you could ask for anything more.”
A California delegate on the floor of the convention, Harold Fong, said Lieberman’s selection “offers the hope that if you are not one of the mainstream but a minority, you have a place with the Democratic Party.”
The vice chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, Hattie Dorsey, a black woman, said she believed the selection was “going to do a lot to bridge the problems that have existed between the African-American and Jewish communities.”
A Native American delegate from New Mexico, David Gomez, said Lieberman’s selection “is going to force America to confront some prejudices that it doesn’t want to acknowledge. Where does it say in the Constitution that only white males of the Christian faith can be president? This choice really opens things up for other people.”
Former Nassau County Democratic Chairman John Matthews said from what he has heard, the choice of Lieberman on the ticket is already paying off among young people who had not been planning to vote “and are now going to vote for the Democrats.”
Added Joanna Richard, a Wisconsin delegate, “It really solidified people who were leaning towards [Gore] but weren’t really sure. They thought it was a bold move, and they appreciate a bold president. I think Lieberman brings to the ticket a maturity, stability and new vision that Al Gore needs.”
“Win or lose,” said Honey Miller of Queens, “Lieberman has done a lot for the Jewish community. He will have proven that a Jewish person can be an effective candidate — and he’s young enough to become president of the United States.”
Daniel Ain contributed to this report.