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County's Delegates Conduct Business and Soak Up the Moment


Mornings for Ventura County Democrats start with a pep rally.

Before all the pomp and prime time speeches start at the Democratic National Convention, the local delegates join more than 400 others from across California for a breakfast that is part strategy session, part star-spangled boosterism.

Preparing to launch headlong into Day 2 of the partisan event, California delegates were roused to action Tuesday morning by the likes of the state's U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), the youngest child of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and head of the party's congressional campaign committee.

"I'm really jazzed, I can't believe I'm here," said Westlake Village resident Evi Kritt, her head spinning from the constant exposure to some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party.

"I was elected to be here and do this serious business, and that's what I'm going to do," she said. "But I'm also here to really soak up the moment."

She's not alone.

Since opening day, the county's delegates have heard from a long line of political heavyweights, whose speeches are intended to lay the groundwork for the declaration Thursday of Vice President Al Gore as the Democratic presidential nominee.

Thousand Oaks resident Hank Lacayo, chairman of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee, said President Clinton's speech Monday night filled his eyes with tears.

"The president, because of his personal problems, has really been vilified and I have trouble with that," Lacayo said. "The guy is really doing a good job."

Clinton's speech capped the convention's opening day. And when it was over, Lacayo and several other local delegates ran into a major display of police force, as officers scrambled to quell violence that flared in the streets after a rock concert outside Staples Center.

For Lacayo, a longtime labor activist and party leader who has attended every convention except one since 1952, the melee brought back memories of the Democrats' 1968 Chicago convention, where police engaged in bloody clashes with Vietnam War protesters.

"It was a display of formidable force that was intimidating as hell," Lacayo said of what he saw on the streets Monday night.

Port Hueneme delegate Adele Rosenbluth agrees. She was also in Chicago, as a protester outside the convention hall. On Tuesday she was still shaking her head at the show of police force that has gripped Los Angeles this week.

"I've seen a sizable police force wherever I've been in this city," Rosenbluth said. "I'm just hoping that the police will keep their cool and that the protesters will be peaceable."

Rosenbluth--whose husband, Murray, is on the Port Hueneme City Council--has been among the busiest delegates. She was the lone Ventura County delegate who had pledged to support former presidential candidate Bill Bradley.

And she was on hand Monday when Bradley officially released his delegates so they could support Gore at the convention. Rosenbluth said she will now gladly do that, a move she said is made even sweeter now that Gore has chosen Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman--a fellow Jew--as his running mate.

"I think that's good for the party, it says something about what we stand for," she said. "I'm pleased and proud of that. But I wish the Democratic Party had picked a woman--I think it's more than time."

Ventura County's convention delegation is made up of seven members and one alternate. Two local elected officials also serve as delegates, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

Jackson, who was on hand for Monday night's session and attended Tuesday morning's delegation breakfast, said while her district may not be highlighted during the convention, local delegates still play an important role.

"I think the message we try to carry, to preserve our resources and protect our coast, is a very important message to bring," Jackson said. "We may not be as plentiful in number as some of the urban areas, but our message certainly is as important."

Late Tuesday afternoon, Kritt was trying to conduct some important business. She was looking for fellow delegates willing to trade for some of the political buttons lining the lapel of her plaid blazer.

As trade bait, she had plenty with pro-Gore messages and a big red button proclaiming her presidency of the Conejo Valley Democratic Club.

She was only a few minutes into the hunt when a reporter for a Japanese newspaper tapped her for an interview on the issues of the day.

"I am having such a good time," said Kritt, who is Democratic committee chairwoman for the 37th Assembly District and involved with the National Women's Political Caucus, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women.

"I'm actually very giddy," she said. "This is more than I ever expected."

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