Massachusetts delegates filing in for breakfast at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel were largely unaware that Gore would be addressing them via video conference this morning. That would explain why only about half of the 122 delegates were seated in the Grand Ballroom to hear Gore's five-minute address.It doesn't, however, explain why no one seemed to be paying much attention to the movie-theater-sized screen at the front of the room. Even those seated continued to chat away as Gore spoke generically about the importance of the convention and rallying the party.
As one delegate explained it: "I think the lack of attention was more a function of the time of morning than lack of interest." Indeed, at a few minutes after 8 a.m. most of us were still clinging to our first cup of coffee, or waiting in line for that first jolt of caffeine.
The purpose of the video conference was supposed to be to provide consistent information to all delegates, scattered in 23 hotels across the city. Convention organizers also wanted to give all delegates a chance to hear Gore live. At past national conventions, A-list party speakers were reserved for the largest delegations, while smaller contingents - think Guam - would warmly receive lesser-known party spokespeople at their morning breakfast meeting.
A noble idea, although the video conference was not promoted to the delegates nearly as well as it was promoted to the press. I'd just squeezed in between TV camera crews to ask Congressman Edward Markey, D-Mass., about the video conference when Gore's image flashed onto the screen. Although I'd been told that Markey was unaware that there would be a teleconference, I figured it would be easier to catch him before the breakfast than afterward.
Gore appeared just seconds after I'd explained to Markey that the former Vice President would be making a virtual appearance. Markey was understandably surprised by the abrupt shift in questions from politics to technology: he'd just done two television interviews that focused on his ambitions to John Kerry's senatorial seat if Kerry's elected president.
As Markey began to answer my questions, he looked over his shoulder at Gore, who was first voted into the House in 1976, the same year as Markey. Upon seeing Gore, my questions finally made sense, and the congressman smiled. "Who better than Al Gore to address the party over broadband technology?" he asked. Markey's no stranger to technology. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.
Closer to the screen, Massachusetts Democratic State Representative Carol Donovan politely pushed aside her breakfast to answer a few questions. She didn't seem all that impressed with the video conference, nor was she expecting it. One of the purposes of the video conference, I'd been told, was to provide delegates with information about what to expect in the coming day. A veteran of seven Democratic National Conventions, dating back to 1980 when she was an alternate for the Massachusetts delegation, Donovan didn't seem to need much guidance. Today, she's off to a "No CARB" luncheon: CARB standing for Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and President George W. Bush. After that, it's off to the Fleet Center for the convention itself.
As I left the breakfast around 9 a.m., a speaker - that's right, an actual person - took the podium at the front of the room, a few feet from the now-dormant video screen. As he addressed the delegates, some even halted their conversations and put their forks down to listen.