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DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION '96

Area Mail Carrier Delivers a Bit of History

Convention: In Chicago, Van Nuys woman is among first group of federal workers allowed to be delegates.

August 29, 1996|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — It took quite a bit--an act of Congress and a heap of money--for Velma McClinton to get to the Democratic National Convention. So she is trying to squeeze all she can from the four-day political extravaganza.

The Van Nuys letter carrier is among the first group of federal government employees allowed to be delegates under changes in the Hatch Act signed by President Clinton in 1993. Before that, McClinton and her colleagues could not hold office in a political party, distribute campaign literature, endorse candidates or work on a phone bank.

"I thought it was unfair," she said of the rules drafted in 1939 to protect federal employees from political coercion.

"I felt like I didn't have the rights everyone else had. This is the first time since we were 'un-Hatched' that we could go to a convention."

But before she could arrive, she had to come up with about $2,400 to pay for a room at the Hilton, air fare and other expenses. She decided to throw her own fund-raising bash--a 5K run that she called "Run for Velma."

McClinton raised about $1,000 from friends, and her union--the National Assn. of Letter Carriers--threw in the rest.

For McCLinton, it appears to be money well spent. Since arriving in Chicago, she has:

* Ignored warnings that Chicago's South Side was dangerous, hopping on a bus before the start of the convention to visit a popular soul food restaurant.

She later shopped at a trendy downtown store, but found it a bit beyond her budget. One scarf that caught her attention cost $990.

* Attended an outdoor concert by Aretha Franklin that was free to all comers. But anxious for a good seat, McClinton arrived seven hours before showtime. She ended up in the fifth row, with a prime view.

* Collected autographs on the delegate credential she had to wear around her neck. Among those she snagged: San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Vice President Al Gore and, someone only a mail carrier could pick out of the crowd, Ned R. McWerten, recently named to the board of governors of the U.S. Postal Service.

* Did some star-gazing. A "60 Minutes" fan, McClinton spotted some of her favorite CBS journalists, including Ed Bradley working the convention floor. And later, she and Andy Rooney got into the same elevator at the hotel. Always the wise guy, he told her he was a delegate from Guam.

* Spent one afternoon at an organized labor rally in downtown. The event was disrupted briefly when a topless woman in a Hillary Clinton mask caused a stir. It took 10 Chicago police officers--all males--to bring the protester to order.

McClinton has some company with whom to talk shop. Of the 4,200 Democratic delegates in Chicago, 26 are letter carriers.

"This is history," she said. "This is the first time a letter carrier could come here, and here I am."

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