Three Democratic candidates for president will stand to applause before MSNBC television cameras and a lucky 3,400 or so people inside Winthrop University’s Byrnes Auditorium on Friday. It is a huge event, without question, that will show off South Carolina, and York County, Rock Hill and Winthrop to the country.
Free tickets were available online the morning of Oct. 16 and, like free beer, they were gone in five minutes. I called Gwen Finley of Rock Hill – who has been active in Democratic politics for two decades, chaired campaigns and made a million phone calls for Democrats – to see if she received a ticket.
“I have a friend who likes me,” Finley said.
Finley is thrilled to have the opportunity to see Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley in person. She wishes more people could be there with her.
“I am very interested to see and hear what they have to say,” Finley said.
Steve Love of York, a political heavyweight in the NAACP, a Democrat all his life, received a ticket. He was in the front row in September when Bernie Sanders spoke to 3,000 people at Winthrop. He will be close again Friday.
But Love said he knows some people who wanted tickets and did not get them. An auditorium that will have about 3,400 is not enough for all who want to go. Plus, political heavyweights, candidate staffs and more get tickets.
At the Moss Justice Center courthouse in York, Rock Hill lawyer Jim Morton walks down the hall toward the carnage of the courtrooms. Much more than a lawyer, Morton gave years of his life, for no pay, as the former chairman of the York County Democratic Party. He gave and gave and raised money and cajoled candidates in a county that is increasingly Republican and conservative – but still he fought on.
No Democrat has been elected to countywide office in York County for at least a generation. Up against those odds, Morton ought to be given a battlefield commission as a general.
Instead, he got a ticket to Friday’s forum. He sure deserves one.
Finley, Love and Morton are among the lucky ticket holders.
Everyone else gets to watch MSNBC, which conservatives would call a sentence worse than the electric chair.
Two blocks away from Byrnes Friday night, one of the people the candidates claim to be trying to help will be finishing a 12-hour shift. Kerry Adams, owner and barber at Headline Designs, did not get a ticket to the event. He sure would like to have goten his hands on one to hear, in person, what these three people have to say.
There is frontrunner Clinton, in the public eye for almost three decades as a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. Because of all that, she is a celebrity. To not know her is to be dead. To vote for her after 25 years of Clinton fatigue, questionable email handling and more is another matter.
Sanders, the liberal socialist U.S. senator from Vermont, is a strong second in polls. He has a habit of appearing on college campuses and advocating higher wages and free college. He is not in the habit of saying how he would pay for all of that, but he will get cheers.
The third candidate, a distant third, is O’Malley, former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor. He’s the guy people often forget is in the race.
But people in Rock Hill know Kerry Adams – a guy with employees and rent and insurance and bills to pay. He was asked if he prayed on the day he signed the papers to take the plunge for his piece of the American dream, opening a business.
“I’m still praying,” Adams said.
He and his employees work until 8 p.m. Friday nights to make a living. The same time they sweep up the last cuttings, the candidates will be saying how they can help Kerry Adams. He will not hear it because his feet will hurt after 12 hours standing, cutting hair. Then there’s the paperwork to be done before getting ready to go back to work Saturday.
Still, Adams smiles, because his American dream needs no politician to tell him that hard work means success.
Tadean Page of Rock Hill, the future of America, waited for a haircut at the same Headline Designs barbershop a week before the forum. The 19-year-old is a top student, an elementary education major and mentor to kids and campus ambassador. He is all that is great about America’s future.
He will vote for the first time ever in the Democratic primary in February. The candidates should be visiting him and begging.
“No ticket,” Page said, stopping the conversation.
Winthrop’s thousands of students were told of the possibility for tickets but the window was small, the tickets finite. Many students surely will be there. More will not be there.
“I would have gone for sure,” Page said, “if I had a ticket.”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065