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  • Webb Blog

    Convention thoughts from Tom Webb

    Monday, September 13, 2004

    Signing off, I thank you 

    Webb Blog is closing shop as the traveling circus of the 2004 presidential campaign moves on.

    I'm grateful to all who helped in my blogging debut -- including the many readers who offered pithy commentary, attaboys and amusing observations. That goes for my editors and the kind folks at

    Be sure to vote in November.

    Monday, September 06, 2004

    Viewer mail II 

    Here is today's installment of convention-related mail from Pioneer Press and Webb Blog readers. From the looks of it, it appears that Sen. Norm Coleman's busy week in NYC prompted the most mail. Here's a sample.

    From Ruth, a native Minnesotan now living in Southern California:
    "I read about Coleman's name dropping and using Dylan's line from a familiar song. It was so disgusting and it is so like him and the GOP to kind of "glom" onto something that they cannot call their own. I also found your comment about finding it comforting that someone living on the east coast as being Minnesota nice - oh, please. There are Minnesotans living everywhere who are MN nice but I think you are leaving out the most important part, most of them are Democrats."

    Rick from Eagan writes:
    "Hi Tom. Maybe Coleman should move back to NY since he loves it so much. ;-)"

    From another reader, Kate in Minneapolis:
    "Oops. Seems one child was left behind...i'm assuming Mary somehow got locked in the closet since she missed the family photo after Grandpa Cheney's pit bull convention values indeed! (thanks for the blog coverage!)"

    Bruce from Oakdale sent in this response to former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson's joking claim that a surveyor error put St. Paul in Minnesota, not Wisconsin, as it should be:
    "So former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson wants to relocate the border to the Mississippi River and make St. Paul part of Wisconsin? If it means we'll be free of the Met Council, he's got my vote."

    Also thanks to: old college friends, former Merriam Park neighbors, friends of my sister, old bosses, family members and old friends from Kansas. (Go Paperboys!) It's amazing who you hear from when you start blogging.

    Friday, September 03, 2004

    Post convention thoughts 

    As the Republicans, the protesters and the media all begin to depart New York City on Friday, a few observations.

    First, thank goodness that both political conventions went as peacefully as they did -- despite all the pre-convention worries about terrorist attacks and so on. The police, the security forces and the planning in both New York and Boston were staggering, especially in New York, and the officers and planners deserve enormous credit. And our thanks.

    But this feeds into my second point, which is the increasingly impossibility of locating these behemoth conventions. Even before 9-11, it was hard for cities to shoulder the related security costs. After 9-11, those costs -- and the inconvenience to city residents -- grew enormously.

    It was stunning to me that both Boston's Fleet Center and New York's Madison Square Garden were chosen in 2004, considering both sit directly atop busy passenger railway stations. And that both were in the midst of bustling downtowns, requiring a security perimeter that shut down ordinary life for blocks around.

    One consequence of this is that, increasingly, the delegates, visitors and media seldom ventured outside the security "bubble," because it's simply too much hassle. And that means that the high-blown promises of a financial windfall for the host city almost never materialize, leaving restauranteurs, cab drivers and shop owners feeling betrayed by civic boosters, and angry about a week with sparse business.

    Bottom line: The next time folks from Minnesota think it would be great for the Twin Cities to host a national political convention, they should have their heads examined. Chances are, it would be a nightmare -- not for our Minnesota image, but for the staggering costs, the mandated security closings and the inevitable disappointment when the pre-convention hype fails to live up to reality.

    Thursday, September 02, 2004

    But seriously now, Republicans... 

    Minnesota Republicans invited a stand-up comedian to their delegation breakfast Thursday morning -- in addition to state party chairman Ron Eibensteiner, that is, who has been known to make a few jokes now and then.

    Eibensteiner went first, telling how he'd been at a thrift store, "and lo and behold, John Kerry came by searching for another Purple Heart."

    But the professional in the room was 'Big Daddy' Jeff Wayne, who is one the conservative comedians appearing in New York City during convention week. Here's some of his material, starting with his riff on Norm Coleman.

    "What can you say about a man from Brooklyn that moved to Minnesota? He saw the light! A man that was a Democrat and became a Republican? He saw the light! A man who was mayor of St. Paul and became a senator? He saw the light!"

    Hey, wait a that a St. Paul slam?

    Wayne also had a riff about the "political correctness" of rechristening "illegal aliens" as "undocumented workers."

    "Pretty soon, we'll call burglars 'unwelcome house guests'."

    Quick, get me rewrite 

    If you ask the GOP delegates, the honor of the most memorable convention speech may well go to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger_ at least until President Bush's speech tonight, of course. But here in the media village on Wednesday, the gossip focused in another direction: the cringe-worthy speech Tuesday evening by the Bush twins.

    It's gotta be tough to be a college-aged kid, and deliver a speech to a huge crowd and a national TV audience. They were certainly trying to be funny. And they probably didn't write their own material. But still, their talk leaned so heavily on the clueless-rich-girl stereotype that it was all the buzz within the convention media hothouse.

    An excerpt:
    Jenna Bush: "Our parents always encouraged us to be independent, and to dream big. We've spent a lot of time at the White House, so when we showed up for work the first day, we thought we had it all figured out. But, apparently, my Dad already has a chief of staff ...named Andy."

    Barbara Bush: "When your Dad's a Republican and you go to Yale, you learn to stand up for yourself. So I knew I wasn't quite ready to be President - but No. 2 sounded good - who is this man they call Dick Cheney?"

    The New York Times quoted a Democratic gag writer, Mark Katz: "The only way the speech could have been more lame was if they had been triplets."

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004

    My life as the Green Room 

    There's an old joke in Washington that the most dangerous place to be is between a politician and a TV camera. That seems to be true in New York, too.

    Inexplicably, the Pioneer Press' assigned seat in Madison Square Garden is right next to CNN's booth. On Wednesday night I was headed to hear Vice President Dick Cheney's speech when I noticed a clot of people around my seat. I was about to worm my way through, when a young staffer whispered to me, "Is Larry King in your way?"

    Oh. Why yes, he is. And so was Sen. John McCain. And Sen. George Mitchell. When I finally reached my chair, I had to do an excuse-me to Mrs. McCain and Judy Woodruff.

    The parade continued. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist came by and sat at the next chair, waiting to appear on Larry King Live. Frist, a former heart surgeon, laughed when King, a former heart patient, yelled down to him, "Bill! Stay around in case I get sick."

    Then somebody else bumped me. It was Jeff Greenfield. I may emerge from this convention with a few bruises, but at least they're celebrity bruises.

    Maybe tomorrow, I'll just camp out in my chair and shag quotes from whoever wanders by.

    Brooklyn bridge 

    Minnesota reporters here, including yours truly, have noted that this marks Norm Coleman's return to his native New York. Coleman was raised in Brooklyn -- which is a huge place, with more than 2 million people -- in the Flatbush-Midwood area. In his day, this was a mixed Jewish/Italian/Irish neighborhood.

    "It's where Woody Allen grew up, it's where Ruth Bader Ginsberg is from," Coleman said. Not to mention fellow U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. "Our neighbors were Camperelli, Charicanuto, Colavito -- so Coleman fit right in," he joked.

    But that was decades ago. I called the Brooklyn Historical Society, for a quick tutorial about the long evolution of Brooklyn's Midwood area. A very nice historian there, Marilyn Pettit, talked about Brooklyn's ever-changing ethnic mix. Way back when, Brooklyn was a heavily Protestant area, and later, heavily Catholic. When Coleman was growing up, it was heavily Jewish.

    "When I moved to Brooklyn in '68, they said there were more Jews in Brooklyn than there were in Israel," Pettit remembered. "I don't know what the percentage is now, but the black percentage is rising, the Jewish population is declining."

    "Now that neighborhood is full of West Indian immigrants, people from the Caribbean," she said."It's still pretty middle class, it's just different, culturally different, racially different, even religiously different."

    What has also changed, however, was the unity of a neighborhood where everyone was pretty much the same. Back in the 1950s, Pettit said, "Even though it was ethno-culturally diverse, they were all sort of at the same economic level. There weren't the great variation between rich and poor, so everyone went to the same public schools, and played ball together, and knew everyone in the neighborhood. . . Whereas if you were born in Cambodia or Vietnam, and find yourself in Corpus Christi, Texas, you know you're different, you feel you're different just walking down the street. . . Midwood was a place of a lot of shared values."

    Pettit concluded with a homecoming offer for Coleman: "Tell him he has an open invitation from the Brooklyn Historical Society to see us, this week or anytime."

    Partisan bash 

    Normally during convention week, I don't bother with the partisan e-mail blasts that clog my mailbox. Hey, both parties get a chance to make their own case, at their own convention, and that seems fair enough to me.

    But occasionally one of these e-mail barbs rises above the norm. The liberal Minnesota ACT group is busy composing satrical fake "postcards" that U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman might be sending from New York. Here's an excerpt:

    Dear Minnesotans...Tonight is my fundraiser with the fat-cats that are going to help me get to be head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Don't ask me who's attending guys, because I won't tell you. I know, I know, my younger self would have setup out front of the Upper East Side location with my bullhorn and fold-out table, shouting about special interests. But times, they are a'changin!

    Day Three 

    On Wednesday, the Minnesota delegates will finally see why they came to New York City: they're visiting Ground Zero.

    There's been some muttering among Republicans about coming to a city where they're not wanted. And there's some truth to this: you can't walk down the streets outside the security perimeter without seeing signs like "Fascists Repent" and "A village in Texas is missing its idiot." Yesterday, as I was leaving the convention complex, I heard people shouting "Go home!"

    Anyway, the power and horror of the 9-11 site is why the Republicans came, and what they most want to see, I suspect.

    Also on today's schedule is a "Salute to Sen. Coleman," and then tonight's evening session.

    Painting the town 

    For Minnesota delegates, it's not all parties, speeches and protesters. On Tuesday a large group donned their old clothes to paint a room at the Salvation Army's Bedford day-care center, as a demonstration of President Bush's "Compassion Across America."

    By one account, the painting went well, but the room wasn't completely painted when the leave-or-else order came from the bus schedulers. So a hardy band of six or so Minnesotans stayed behind, to finish the job.

    "This is a day-care center that has other needs," said Randy Wanke, a spokesman for the Minnesota GOP. "So we're going to try to raise money to get them new computers."

    The place was alive with children Tuesday, and the excitement caused by the Minnesota visitors made it, "for me personally, one of the best parts of the convention so far," Wanke said.

    "Unwinnable," revisited 

    The partisan back-and-forth is continuing about President Bush's remark about the war on terrorism, "I don't think you can win it." On Tuesday Bush gave a much more spirited version to the American Legion convention, saying "We are winning, and we will win."

    Now Democrats are reminding everyone how Republican operatives lashed out this spring after a Democrat from Pennsylvania, U.S. Rep. John Murtha, said, "the direction (of the war in Iraq has) got to be changed or it's unwinnable."

    Among the GOP attackers was U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who said on May 19, "In a world of instantaneous global communication, we need to be very sensitive to what we say.... We should be very careful not to encourage our enemies. This war is winnable, but if insurgents heard his words, it was harder to win than before he spoke."

    Coleman's remarks were rather mild, compared with the words from Rep. Tom DeLay, the House Republican leader: ""In a calculated and craven political stunt, the national Democrat Party declared its surrender in the war on terror.. It tells our enemies that if it's unwinnable to us, it's winnable to them."

    More moments 

    If you watched Tuesday night's session, you caught Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. And as at the Democratic convention, the moment I found most powerful was his memory of life under oppression, and a reminder of the freedoms we too often take for granted in this country.

    An excerpt from Schwarzenegger's speech:

    "When I was a boy, the Soviets occupied part of Austria. I saw their tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes. I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector. Growing up, we were told, 'Don't look the soldiers in the eye. Look straight ahead.' It was a common belief that Soviet soldiers could take a man out of his own car and ship him off to the Soviet Union as slave labor.

    "My family didn't have a car, but one day we were in my uncle's car. It was near dark as we came to a Soviet checkpoint. I was a little boy -- I wasn't an action hero back then -- and I remember how scared I was that the soldiers would pull my father or my uncle out of the car, and I'd never see him again. My family and so many others lived in fear of the Soviet boot. Today, the world no longer fears the Soviet Union and it is because of the United States of America."

    Tuesday, August 31, 2004

    Viewer Mail  

    Today's installment of Viewer Mail comes with the reminder that I've set up a special convention e-mail account -- -- so keep those cards and letters coming. Except for the spam.

    One saucy reader wants to know about the "spa" that has been set up here in the media area, and wonders whether I've gone for a visit. The spa is giving free massages, haircuts and facials, I'm told.

    No, I have not (and I consider the spa here an especially dopey idea). But I'm not sure whether or not this suggestion qualifies as some sort of hint that perhaps I ought to. After all, the blog does have my picture. In any case, I'd like to imagine that my journalistic competitors at the Star-Tribune are spending their days getting waxed and peeled, even if they're probably not.

    A generous reader from Boston (who reads the Pioneer Press online to keep up with the Vikings) asks whether I am related to the Pine Island branch of the Webbs, and sends his regards. Alas, no. I hail from the St. Paul branch -- but it's good to know Minnesota Nice has established an East Coast outpost.

    Several readers have Laurie Coleman observations, including one who jokingly wanted photos. Hey pal, you've got the wrong website.

    And one reader asked several cryptic questions about life at Madison Square Garden, including, "Do they sell alcohol there?" I'll have to check on that, but I didn't see any in the media area. But at the convention hospitality suites, the booze was flowing freely -- all of it sponsored by various corporations.

    Norm on a mission 

    You've got to hand it to Sen. Norm Coleman. Minnesota's Republican senator was out partying with Rudy Giuliani until 2 a.m. Tuesday, then back at Madison Square Garden at 6:50 a.m. for a full slate of radio, TV, wire service and newspaper interviews.

    True, he did look a little bleary-eyed early on (but hey, who didn't?), and he hadn't shaved, so an aide had to fetch a razor and some shaving cream. But after a quick shave and a few gulps of coffee, Coleman was his old gregarious self. In rapid succession, he deftly handled a dozen or so interviews, then set out for what promises to be a grueling day of forums, interviews, delegate meetings, TV appearances, and parties _ not to mention serving as emcee during tonight's roll-call.

    This kind of energy and relentless drive is rare, except among a certain breed of high-level elected official. Paul Wellstone, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole all shared that hunger and drive, even if their political philosophies and personal motivations greatly differed. The party officials know this, and are watching Coleman at work. And for a hard-working political striver, the national convention may be the best platform on earth.

    Food update: cancel that order 

    Happily, calm has been restored in the media village. Food has returned.

    A surprise food shortage at the "restaurant" here was the subject of much chit-chat at the Republican National Convention yesterday, but by this morning, the restocking elves had done their work.

    In truth, the real problem isn't so much the food -- there are lots of restaurants nearby. Instead, it's the fact that the hyper-security surrounding Madison Square Garden makes anyone inside the security "bubble" dread the thought of leaving and then re-entering, lest they have to navigate through the maze of Jersey barricades, metal fencing, road-blocking vehicles, closed streets, security checkpoints, metal detectors, bag searches, German shepherds and credential checks.

    Still, it might have been fun to hear speculation about which media personality could best afford to skip a few meals. Chris Matthews? Rush Limbaugh? Michael Moore? Candy Crowley? The choices are many.

    Cleavage update 

    OK, OK, people. By popular demand (well, two emails), it's time for an update on Laurie Coleman, the senator's wife who created a small stir last week with a pair of provocative photos published in The Washington Post.

    Mrs. Coleman is here in New York, and making the Republican rounds. Fellow reporter/blogger Alan Bjerga of the Kansas-centered Ozblog -- -- spotted Mrs. Coleman at Monday night's Travis Tritt concert and salute to Republican senators, including Sen. Norm Coleman. Mrs. Coleman was wearing an ankle-length black evening dress, he reports.


    "Yes, there was cleavage," he added.

    The senator himself was asked about all this on Monday, and sort of shrugged it off. What's the problem with being an attractive woman at a Republican convention? After all, he noted, a former Miss America will be speaking Tuesday to the delegates.

    Monday, August 30, 2004

    Old soldiers...wait, not that old. 

    Joe Repya, a veteran from Eagan, twice basked in the convention spotlight Monday night.

    First, Repya led the Republican delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance. He thinks he was chosen for this honor because, after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, Repya volunteered to come out of retirement and rejoin the active-duty military. He expects to go to Iraq soon, again serving our country.

    His second appearance Monday night veered a teeny bit off-script. A GOP television crew interviewed Repya on the convention floor, and his comments were aired in the hall and over television.

    The young interviewer asked, "You served not only in Kuwait, but also in the Korean War and in Desert Storm. Now, why don't you tell me, you retired in 1998. You have decided to serve your country again, and return to Iraq. Why?"

    Replied Repya, who is 58, "Well, actually, Vietnam and Desert Storm."

    Well, close. But Repya made a nice recovery and continued.

    "I believe that this nation needs strong leadership at the top, with someone like George W. Bush, but they also need strong leadership on the battlefield. Our nation is at war, and my family and I are willing to make that sacrifice."

    Bob Dylan tribute? 

    The roll-call of the states began early at the Republican National Convention -- on opening day -- and that's when Sen. Norm Coleman stepped to the microphone and quoted Bob Dylan.

    "Minnesota native Bob Dylan said 'Times they are a-changin.' They are changing in Minnesota, with our great young Republican governor Tim Pawlenty, half of our Washington delegation being Republican, and for the first time in 32 years in a presidential election, Minnesota is going to be in the Republican column on Nov. 2."

    It's a nifty turn of phrase, yet it's far from clear that Bob Dylan would approve. The Hibbing-bred singer/songwriter/legend has spoken on stage about his regard for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, and is rumored (but no more than that) to be among the musicians who will perform at concerts this fall designed to defeat President Bush and put Democrat John Kerry in the White House.

    Send food! 

    Here in the fine-dining capital of the world, food is strangely sparce. The convention had hardly opened when the "restaurant" in the sprawling media center sold out of bagels. (And in New York City, of all places!)

    By early afternoon, it appeared to be out of prepared sandwiches, salads, fruit and chicken fingers. That pretty much left hot dogs, from what I could tell.

    This is the first day, so a certain amount of chaos is expected. But still, if this continues, we'll all be a lot thinner on the Big Apple Diet.

    Meanwhile, the New York visitors bureau has arrayed posters around town, bragging that New York boasts "17,312 restaurants _ that's one a day for 47 years."

    Minnesota GOP in NYC 

    The Republican National Convention has begun, and on Day One, a handful of Minnesota Republicans are getting a moment in the sun.

    Eric Hoplin, president of the College Republicans and a native of Detroit Lakes, is scheduled to speak at about 1:25 p.m. Minnesota time.

    U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman will be delivering Minnesota's vote tonight, as part of what convention organizers call "a rolling roll-call" of the states. Back in 2000, party chairman Ron Eibensteiner delivered the votes, and drew a bit of flak for calling Minnesota the "land of 10,000 lakes and one goofy governor." (Eibensteiner didn't seem to much mind missing his fame this time around, although he did muse about what praise he might have given the governor this time, since it's now Republican Tim Pawlenty.)

    At tonight's opening session, Joe Repya of Eagan will lead the delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Finally, two longtime Minnesota GOP dignitaries were cited in the memorial roll-call since the last convention. Harold Stassen, a onetime governor of Minnesota (who was later known for his frequent presidential attempts) died in 2001; Clark MacGregor, a former congressman and GOP fixture, died in 2003.

    Good morning, GOP 

    It didn't take Minnesota Republicans long to see the value of hailing from a political swing state. On Monday morning, they awoke on New York's chic East Side, listened to a cabinet secretary for their morning speaker, and then enjoyed VIP status as they were wisked efficiently aboard buses directly to Madison Square Garden.

    The same hotel-to-hall trip four years ago in Philadelphia would have taken at least an hour _ and nobody was waving their bus through red lights back then.

    The morning speaker was Education Secretary Rod Paige, who concluded his remarks by telling the GOP delegates, "The other guys are really not good for America." Then he urged them, "Bring us Minnesota!"

    Afterward with the media, Paige was asked about Minnesota's experience with the No Child Left Behind law. Paige noted that, "Each state sets its own standards, so Minnesota set some high standards," adding that, "I congratulate the state for recognizing the schools they need to work on." He added, "We don't play any role in what standards the states have."

    Tom Webb

    Tom Webb is the Washington correspondent for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. He can be reached at

     Latest posts

       •  Signing off, I thank you
       •  Viewer mail II
       •  Post convention thoughts
       •  But seriously now, Republicans...
       •  Quick, get me rewrite
       •  My life as the Green Room
       •  Brooklyn bridge
       •  Partisan bash
       •  Day Three
       •  Painting the town


       •  July 2004
       •  August 2004
       •  September 2004

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