2016-08-04 / Election News

‘We Witnessed History Being Made’

By Tom Walsh


Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, Sec. of State Nellie Gorbea, Gov. Gina Raimondo, and state Rep. Deborah Ruggiero deliver their message on the floor of the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. 
(Photo supplied by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero) Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, Sec. of State Nellie Gorbea, Gov. Gina Raimondo, and state Rep. Deborah Ruggiero deliver their message on the floor of the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. (Photo supplied by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero) State Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, will never forget where she was on the night that the 2016 Democratic National Convention formally nominated Hillary Clinton as its candidate for president.

That’s because Ruggiero, as a delegate pledged to Clinton, was standing right in the middle of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with the rest of the Rhode Island delegation as, state by state, the Democrats made history.

“Think of it,” Ruggiero was saying this week as she looked back on her experience in Philadelphia. “A woman was being nominated to run for president of the United States. It was the first time in 240 years. I’m not sure if our forefathers ever anticipated it. For little girls, it meant that the glass ceiling was broken. It was euphoric. We witnessed history being made.”

Ruggiero was among the 33 delegates that Rhode Island Democrats sent to Philadelphia for their party’s gathering.

On the Republican side, 19 Rhode Island delegates attended the GOP convention at the Quicken Loans Arena, also known as “the Q,” in Cleveland, Ohio. Among them was Rebecca Schiff, also of Jamestown, who served as an alternate delegate.

“My favorite part of the convention was bonding with the Rhode Island delegation,” Schiff wrote of her GOP convention experience in an email to Newport This Week. “There were 19 delegates, 16 alternates and several guests that ate breakfast together, boarded buses together, went to receptions together, and generally looked out for each other while sharing the sights and sounds of the convention.”

Schiff, who is challenging Ruggiero for the Rhode Island House District 74 seat this November, said the GOP convention was her “first as a delegate alternate representing the Ocean State.” She wrote of how impressed she was with security measures in Cleveland, and described security personnel as “serious but friendly.”

“It seemed that from the minute I landed in Cleveland, police officers, Secret Service agents and their dogs were close by, guarding, sniffing, checking bags, escorting delegates on and off the buses, and to and from the hotels,” she said.

For Newport Councilor John Florez, the final evening of the Democratic National Convention was the thrill of a lifetime. As the week started out, he was neither a delegate nor an alternate to the Philadelphia event. Rather, he was at home in Newport, watching along with the rest of the country and the world, when he unexpectedly heard from a friend.

Was he interested in a ticket to the convention’s closing night, his friend wanted to know?

For Florez, that was akin to being asked whether he’d like to win Powerball. His friend’s ticket got him a seat with the rest of the Rhode Island delegation in the Wells Fargo Center.

“It was an amazing night,” Florez told Newport This Week. “I knew I had to be there. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I just felt compelled to go.”

The councilor said he’s been watching national political conventions on television every four years since 1980, when he was nine years old. And since that time, he’s loved the spectacle of these events, especially the way they conclude, with red, white and blue balloons and confetti cascading down on delegates and the newly minted nominee. “For me,” Florez said, “it’s a very iconic, very visual experience.”

Florez said the thrill in being on the convention floor that night was not only in hearing Clinton’s speech as she accepted her party’s nomination, but also in being there in person to hear firsthand the words of Khizr Khan, the Muslim-American Gold Star father whose son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Khan denounced Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies and, in so doing, prompted days of criticism from the Republican presidential nominee.

“Hillary Clinton gave the speech of a lifetime, and Mr. Khan spoke from the heart," Florez said.

Ruggiero added, “It was palpable when Mr. Khan spoke. You could feel the pain. I cried.”

Florez said that he hopes to return to the convention in the future in an official capacity.

“It was an incredible, incredible experience,” he said. “I would definitely love to be a delegate next time.”

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