There in spirit: Suburban Democratic delegates have mixed feelings on virtual convention
When state Rep. Jonathan Carroll of Northbrook was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention earlier this year, he had no idea the event would be held remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Instead of gathering in Milwaukee this week for speeches by Democratic dignitaries -- including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden -- and other activities, he's observing the goings-on via computer in his basement office.
"It's the 2020 convention from my man cave," Carroll said Monday.
For first-time delegate Georgina Poole of Aurora, it's a convention from her bedroom, where she connects to Zoom sessions via her smartphone and can watch convention meetings and seminars on her smart TV. "It's really cool," Poole said. "It would be more cool if I could be there in person, but if I cannot be there in person, I still get to talk to them and chat via Zoom."
Poole, a Biden delegate, said the experience is all the more exciting because the presumptive vice-presidential nominee is Kamala Harris, the first woman of color on a major party ticket.
"I got to be part of history twice," said Poole, who is Black and also is president of Council 5218 of the League of United Latin American Citizens. She works as a commercial driver's license driving examiner for the Illinois Secretary of State.
"I got to go to the (presidential) inauguration in 2009 and now I get to be a delegate when we have a nominee that is African-American and Asian on the ticket. You thought that's something you're never going to see -- and here it is."
Buffalo Grove resident Victor Shi is a Biden delegate, too -- and at 18, reportedly the youngest.
The recent Stevenson High School graduate has been interested in politics since the 2016 Democratic National Convention; he has fond memories of watching the red, white and blue balloon-drop that closed out the event on TV.
He was eager to be on the convention floor in Milwaukee as part of the celebration this year.
But it's not to be.
"(It's) for sure a bummer," Shi said.
Normally during a presidential convention, party members converge on the host city and participate in caucus discussions, attend parties, gather for speeches and rub shoulders with former presidents and other party leaders. And of course, they formally choose the party's presidential nominee.
It's a pep rally for the political party.
But because of the pandemic, delegates voted for their nominee by mail.
Another first-time delegate, Beth Penesis of South Elgin, said this year's convention is vastly different from those she attended when President Barack Obama was nominated in 2008 and 2012. She misses seeing friends in person, but it's not all bad, she said.
"With this, you're probably more deliberate and focused on what you want to hear. You're not just wandering around," said Penesis, who works for a water utility company. "I think they've done so far a really good job at taking a bad situation and turning it into something that more Americans can share."
Carroll, who represents the 57th House District in Cook and Lake counties, is disappointed the convention isn't being held in person, but he understands why plans changed. The coronavirus seems to spread most easily in large, indoor events -- just like the planned in-person convention.
"We're all just disappointed by where the world is," he said.
This is the first time Carroll has been a presidential delegate -- but it's actually his second Democratic National Convention as an attendee.
Shortly after graduating from DePaul University in 1996, he was an intern for CBS News at that summer's convention in Chicago. When not undertaking various assignments, he got to observe some of the event from the media's perspective.
"It was an exceptionally cool experience," Carroll recalled.
This year's virtual convention will be memorable, too -- "but for all the wrong reasons," Carroll said.
The Democrats' convention runs through Thursday.
The Republican National Convention is planned for Aug. 24-27. Originally planned for Charlotte, North Carolina, it also will be held remotely.