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Grand Old Party in the Big Apple

Seeing the GOP Convention through the eyes of two Potomac residents.

For Shelly Kamins, attending a Republican National Convention for the fourth time was a privilege. As a “Ranger,” or in his case, a “Double Ranger,” Kamins was seated among the elite, in the box seats, high above the cacophonous crowd on the convention floor.

He was afforded this advantage by raising more than $400,000 for the Republican Party. (To earn the title of Ranger, you must raise $200,000.)

Marilyn Dankner, a longtime devotee of politics, and particularly Republican politics, earned her position as an alternate delegate to the convention via the National Federation of Republican Women, when she was chosen member-at-large representing that organization.

A FOURTH-GENERATION Republican (“I have documents to prove it,” she exclaimed), Dankner was president of the Maryland Federation for four years and was named Maryland Woman of the Year by the state‘s Republican Party. “I am a grass-roots activist,” she insisted.

“I was seated on the first level above the convention floor where all of the alternates are assigned. I really liked it because you could see everything, and it’s much cooler. The air conditioning is one reason why the high-rollers like to be up higher in the boxes,” she explained.

Whether one is a so-called “high-roller” or a “grass-roots activist,” it is rewarding to experience this political process .

“I would say it was an experience which created an overwhelming sense of patriotism and pride in supporting our president,” Kamins said.

Dankner assessed the overall atmosphere in Madison Square Garden, home of the five-day convention, as harmonious. “Numerous delegates from other states remarked on (Lt. Gov.) Michael Steele’s speech and how they felt he did such a good job. He was remarkable, distinguished and recognized,” she said.

Both Kamins and Dankner remarked on Sen. John McCain’s acknowledgment of the presence of filmmaker Michael Moore. “Sen. McCain struck just the right chord in unmasking Mr. Moore for what he is. The crowd loved it,” he said. Kamins also expressed “disgust” that Moore was given legitimate press credentials.

“I’ll tell you, every single night was perfectly choreographed. The night Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke, everyone was given ‘Arnold’ signs, ditto the night Michael Reagan spoke. On Sen. McCain’s night, the signs all said, ‘Support Our Troops,’ and on the president’s night, we all were given American flags. Every night there was a theme,” she explained.

BETWEEN AND DURING speeches, there was plenty of time for observation. “Up in the boxes, it was like a big party. Everyone continuously moved from box to box,” Kamins said.

On the first level where Dankner sat, two sections from the vice president’s box, she reported: “One night they had the Rudolph Giulianis, the Jack Kemps, and even a small baby. The evening the president spoke, we knew when his speech was almost over. Everyone left the box early, so they could reach the stage on time.”

Both Dankner and Kamins thought President Bush’s speech was strong in content. “The president’s statements on terrorism identified the harsh realities we face and the unrelenting will and capacity to overcome these, providing the United States demonstrates no signs of weakness,” Kamins stated.

“I think he [Bush] concisely presented his domestic plans for the next four years and his vision of where he wants to take the country. Concerning terrorism, he is consistent and is determined to do whatever it takes to protect us,” Dankner noted.

As for the speech by Sen. Zell Miller, the Georgia Democrat, both felt that he chose between loyalty to his party and the future safety of his children and his grandchildren. “He chose President Bush to protect them,” Kamins said.

IT WAS THE GRAND OLD PARTY personified, not only on the convention floor. “There were parties every night. Most of them lasted until 2 a.m. or longer,” Dankner said. She and her husband, Harold (he had been issued visitor’s passes for the convention), attended many of the gatherings.

“I haven’t been up that late, in so many nights in a row, in recent memory,” Kamins confessed. He missed the well-publicized Gov. Bobby Ehrlich bash at the Chelsea Pier on the Hudson River. “I tried to go, but we got stuck in traffic,” he said. The Dankners got there eventually and reported marvelous dining and dancing. Both Kamins and the Dankners got to the Michael Steele party at the 40/40 Club.

For Dankner, the most rewarding gala was the First Lady’s Luncheon at the Marriott Marquis. Guest speaker Laura Bush was introduced by her twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. “There were three tables of Maryland women including Babette Denis, Mary Kane, Jane Plank, Barbara Powell and Joyce Lyons Terhes, the Maryland State Committeewoman who organized the tables and who recently moved to Montgomery County.

Kamins’ favorite party was held at the Four Seasons Hotel, where President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, came to thank all of the Pioneers ($100,000) and Rangers for their fund-raising efforts.

Amid the logistics of getting to all events, both Dankner and Kamins commented on the proficiency of the New York Police Department. “They were extraordinary in their efficiency and friendliness,” Kamins remarked. Dankner added, “They were everywhere, performing duties from tour guide to patrol. When our bus picked us up, a policeman was on board; in front of the hotel, there were five or six officers. They were everywhere.”

Some delegates, expressing gratitude for the exceptional service, wore stickers saying, “Thank you, NYPD.”

Notably, Kamins reported that in all of his travels throughout the city, he never saw a protester. “I don’t know where they were. I was concerned that they would inundate the city. They certainly were not on Madison or Fifth avenues, or near the Garden. In reality, I never saw one,” he marveled.

Kamins summed up the entire experience beautifully for both Marylanders when he remarked, “It was really something else!”

Dankner added, “Just being there was the highlight for me.”