Presidential Election

Meet California Democratic convention delegates for Hillary Clinton (and Bernie Sanders)

Tale of two California Democratic delegates: Sanders or Clinton?

Two of California's delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia talk Sunday July 24, 2016 about why they are supporting their presidential candidates.
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Two of California's delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia talk Sunday July 24, 2016 about why they are supporting their presidential candidates.

California’s 551-member delegation to the Democratic National Convention arrived over the weekend at their accommodations at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Philadelphia and began preparing for the week’s main event: the nomination of Hillary Clinton amid lingering rancor from supporters of her dispatched rival, Bernie Sanders.

A few delegates shared their thoughts heading into Monday’s opening of the convention.

Phyllis Schmidt, 87, Long Beach

Phyllis Schmidt protested the Vietnam War, became involved in immigrant- and gay-rights causes and has supported Hillary Clinton for so long that one of her granddaughters encouraged her to campaign to become a delegate a day or two before the registration deadline.

Schmidt signed up and did well enough to become an alternate, which appears to suit her fine.

“Oh, absolutely,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know what I’m doing. Why do I want that much responsibility?”

More than anything, Schmidt is in Philadelphia to witness history and to mingle with crowds of Democrats she has supported from afar for a lifetime.

“For years I’ve heard about Emily’s List,” Schmidt said of the group that seeks to elect women who support abortion rights. “I’ve never had that kind of money to be a big donor, but I’m invited to a big party just by nature of going. … I’m going to meet Emily’s List people.”

Schmidt, a real estate agent, said her politics are “way left, or far left” of center. She has supported Clinton, a more moderate Democrat, since she was first lady, and she said that as president “she would be able to make compromises between the left and the right.”

Schmidt is bringing her two daughters to the convention. One of them is also a Clinton supporter. The other prefers Republican Donald Trump.

“They thought it would be fun to go, and they’re playing the age card,” she said. “They’re going to help me around so they can get into events.”

David Siders

Zenaida Huerta, 17, Whittier

Zenaida Huerta was among thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters at a rally in Los Angeles last year when a sign in the crowd caught her eye.

It said “Trojans for Bernie,” and she figured if college students could organize support for his campaign – in this case at the University of Southern California – a high school student could, too.

“After seeing that, I was really inspired,” she said.

Then a senior at La Serna High School in Whittier, Huerta started a student group at her school to organize volunteers to walk precincts and call voters and recruit more volunteers. Then she ran for a spot as a delegate. She fell short in a district election but was selected as an at-large delegate for Sanders. Her father, Henry Huerta, is also a Sanders delegate.

“I think I represent a generation that’s going to make up the voting bloc of the Democratic Party,” Zenaida Huerta said. “I think it’s the future of the party, too, and I think I felt like I was representing these people, and I wanted to go to the convention. … I felt at my high school, I had a lot of experience being able to articulate the issues and defend them.”

Huerta’s grandfather was a United Farm Workers organizer and a friend of Dolores Huerta, the famed labor leader, but not a relative, she said. Her father got involved in politics as a teenager, and she recalled attending May Day marches as a young child.

Now, she said, she is “kind of following in my dad’s footsteps.”

Huerta will enroll at Claremont McKenna College in the fall. Someday, she said, she’d like to run for elected office.

“There are a lot of things I’d like to do first,” she said. “But Bernie’s message really resonates – his message to all his supporters to go out and run for office.”

David Siders

Linda Wah, 66, San Marino

Linda Wah, of the Pasadena Area Community College District board of trustees, admires Hillary Clinton as someone who changed the role of first lady.

Wah, an information technology professional, spent years working on various women’s groups, such as the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus and Women at Work in Pasadena.

She’ll be in the room when millions around the world watch Clinton formally become the first woman in U.S. history to lead the presidential ticket of a major political party.

“I am a strong advocate for women in politics,” she said, “and I am very excited to see this.”

Wah said the recent endorsement of Clinton by former rival Bernie Sanders, a favorite of many liberal Democrats and young people, demonstrates Clinton’s willingness to adopt more progressive positions. Issues such as the minimum wage, health care and free or low-cost education – “those are things that speak to people,” she said.

Still, Wah said, it’s hard to tell if young people will rally around Clinton because some still hold onto an image of her as an “establishment politician,” and they are “looking for someone new.”

Christopher Cadelago

Tony Russomanno, 65, Santa Cruz

In his working days, Tony Russomanno was a radio reporter for NBC News at the 1976 Democratic convention in New York, where he had a blast.

Russomanno retired in 2007, after covering the environment, science and technology for KPIX-TV in San Francisco, and was asked to become involved in the local Democratic Party organization in Santa Cruz County. He plans to stream live video footage of the convention via social media.

“I am using the same hard, investigative, thoughtful techniques that I used as a reporter to figure out who to support and why that person deserves my support,” he said. “I am making a reasonable and informed choice, as every voter should make. The only difference is now, since I am no longer a reporter, I can make that choice public.”

Russomanno’s choice to support Hillary Clinton was one he initially made in 2008, when she was running against then-Sen. Barack Obama. Among his biggest policy areas of concern are protecting jobs and the rights of organized labor.

A graduate of New York University, Russomanno is familiar with Donald Trump’s record, and said most New Yorkers “know Trump. ... They look at him and raise their eyebrows and say, ‘Oh, well, that’s Donald being Donald.’ 

“I have no expectation Trump is going to do anything close to what he says at any point in the future,” he said. “Give him five minutes, and he’ll change his mind. He is simply saying whatever excites the crowd. He is egotistical, and he is doing it for his own self-interest.”

The biggest reason this election matters is the winner’s ability to shape the Supreme Court for decades, he said.

 ‘Scary, scary Supreme Court,’ is what I tell everybody,” he said. “We are not talking about what’s important for the next four years as much as we are for the next 40 years. We do not want any Republican to pick the next three Supreme Court justices.”

Christopher Cadelago

Kevin Sabellico, 18, Carlsbad

Kevin Sabellico’s friends studying math and science just can’t comprehend his passion for politics.

Sabellico graduated a semester early from Canyon Crest Academy, where students select their own academy. Sabellico wanted to be involved in state and national government, but wasn’t all that familiar with public affairs at the local level.

He then went on to volunteer in the office of San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts.

“Most of my friends think I am crazy,” Sabellico said. “They just don’t know why I waste my time on something as ‘pointless’ as politics. ... (I) saw that this is something that really matters; not some abstract thing.

“It was a calling.”

Before heading to the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the fall, he’ll cast his vote for Hillary Clinton, someone he greatly respects. He likes the Democrat’s plans to reform Wall Street, and said her experience as secretary of state will help her stand out with the international community.

“She gets what Americans want,” he said. “I think her record shows she really cares.”

Sabellico said he isn’t concerned about the rising populism manifested in Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” saying Americans are “smart enough” not to pick him as their president. “This election is Hillary’s to lose,” he added.

Idealism is not without its price. Traveling thousands of miles for a convention can be expensive. Sabellico, who is going alone, has enlisted a roommate.

“We’ll split the cost,” he said.

Christopher Cadelago

Bob Mulholland, 69, Chico

For Bob Mulholland, a longtime Democratic strategist, the convention is a homecoming – and a reminder of a war that shaped much of the politics of a generation.

Fifty years to the day after he received his draft notice, Mulholland, who was born in Philadelphia, will walk with his wife from the convention hotel to an address on Broad Street in Philadelphia, where he reported for the Army and the Vietnam War.

“For me, the war changed me from a regular person to a very politically active person,” he said. “I’ll go over there with my wife and reflect a little bit on life and the tragic mistake this country made.”

The son of a factory worker in a working-class neighborhood, Mulholland at the time supported the Vietnam War. But Mulholland, a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne and a recipient of the Purple Heart, came to believe it was a mistake.

“After I got to Vietnam, and particularly after I was wounded,” he said, “I remember looking around me … I became really disillusioned.”

When Mulholland returned, he traveled, then got into political campaigns in Chico in 1972. He has been involved in Democratic Party politics in California ever since. At this convention, he is a superdelegate who says he will support Hillary Clinton.

“This is a historical moment for us,” Mulholland said. “You have (Rep.) Nancy Pelosi, (Sen.) Dianne Feinstein, (Sen.) Barbara Boxer and (Gov.) Jerry Brown, and they represent over 100 years of public service. And this is the last time – the last convention – all four of them will be in office.”

David Siders