The shadow of Ralph Nader hangs low over the Green Party’s national convention in Chicago, but the perennial candidate is nowhere to be found. Nader declined to run for the Green nomination this year, clearing the stage for the four candidates who are in attendance. Last Friday, the day before the nomination, the Palmer House Hilton’s Grand Ballroom is host to a candidates’ forum moderated by Rich Whitney, whose amazing ten-percent-plus share of the vote in the 2006 Illinois gubernatorial election has made him something of a Green Party rock star.
First up is S.K.C.M. Curry, who is improbably seeking the vice presidential nomination. Curry, a self-described “soul sista,” begins and ends her short speech by making the crowd of mostly middle-aged white hippies stand up and chant along with her. Then the presidential candidates are introduced. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia is the clear frontrunner for the nomination. The Greens, who have never elected anyone to an office higher than state legislator, appear star-struck by the former U.S. Representative, who served for twelve years as a democrat.
On the right side of the stage stand the two less experienced candidates. Dr. Kent Mesplay, 45, is an air-quality inspector in San Diego. Kat Swift, 35, is an activist and former anarchist who often spells her name in lower case. Swift and Mesplay share the same campaign coordinator and act more like friends than rivals. In fact, at times, they appear to be flirting. “My energy policy is to hire Kent Mesplay,” declares Swift. After Mesplay gives a characteristically detailed response to a question, Swift follows with “Can I just say ‘ditto’?” Perhaps the two of them will have future encounters on the campaign trail; Swift is running for San Antonio city council in 2009, while Mesplay is running for Congress in 2010 and president again in 2012. In fact, Mesplay’s signs say “Mesplay 2008” on one side and “Mesplay 2012” on the other, to save paper.
The next day, the voting commences. Most state delegations announce for McKinney, including the Georgia delegate, who refers to her as the forty-fourth president to muted laughter, and the Louisiana delegate, who casts five of his state’s six votes for “Cynthia MacKenzie.” Technical difficulties briefly derail the ceremonies. In the lull, the audience amuses itself by doing “the wave” and repeatedly chanting “Paint! The White House! Green!” Curry, not to be left out of any chanting, begins dancing up the aisles and attempts to co-opt the song (“Won’t you help me to…” “Paint! The White House! Green!”). In the end, Nader comes in second. McKinney’s acceptance speech refers to “the five percent who will vote for us,” an unrealistically ambitious figure. Somewhere, Johnson, Mesplay and Swift begin preparations for 2012. (Sam Feldman)