Long Island delegates navigate strange new Democratic and GOP conventions

Let’s look back — waaay back.

It’s November 2019 and David Kilmnick, president of the LGBT Network in Hauppauge, has just learned he’s going to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

He is one of four Long Islanders designated by local party leaders to run as first-time delegates to their party’s big party. And he’s the only non-office-holding Democrat in the first-time LI delegate pool, which, according to party officials, includes Laura Curran, Nassau’s county executive, and state senators Kevin Thomas, of Levittown, and Monica Martinez, of Brentwood.

“In my mind, it was going to be signs, funny hats and excited crowds and cheering,” Kilmnick recalled last week. “It was going to be seeing people, going to meetings, to dinners, to parties, getting energized for the election.”

The novel coronavirus, alas, put the kibosh on that.

“Instead of being in the middle of the excitement, we ended up going to a webinar,” Kilmnick said, with a chuckle.

Well, not quite, Kilmnick went on.

Every morning during the Democrats’ four-day national convention last week, Jay Jacobs, Democratic Party chairman in both the New York State and Nassau County, convened a breakfast, where, early on, state delegates watched “Why Joe,” a video of themselves praising the ticket of Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris. There were at least nine Long Islanders in the video; Curran appears twice.

“I wanted to start the day with us being together,” Jacobs said last week. “It was a chance for delegates to see delegates they may not have seen before, listen to delegates they might not have known before.”

Kilmnick offered up an additional bonus: “If these had been in person, I would have eaten French toast, pancakes, croissants. Instead I was home and eating sensibly,” he said with what sounded like a sigh.

After breakfast, delegates had the option of signing in for livestreams of caucus and other meetings, many of which melded portions that were live or recorded in advance.

Several, including the labor, Black, Hispanic, LGBT and women’s caucuses, were open to the public. Several sessions also allowed viewers to post comments — most of which were delegates introducing themselves, and saying hi to friends. But — as so often happens online these days — some were far less cordial.

“Ah, the trolls are here,” a commenter typed during one session.

“I don’t think we’ve ever opened up our convention like that before,” Jacobs would say later. “Of course, there’s a lot about this convention that we hadn’t done before, either.”

Kilmnick livestreamed a few caucus meetings during the week.

But mostly, he did what delegates were brought together to do in the first place. He went to work soliciting support for the party’s ticket.

“I worked,” he said. “After breakfast, after caucuses, it was to the phones.”

That part of the day, he said, usually ended as time neared each evening for the televised portion of the day’s schedule.

“I’d be ready,” he said, “to sit, to watch and to be inspired.”

Much was made during the proceedings of Biden’s empathy and his ability to connect with people.

Kilmnick experienced those qualities in 2012, when he and his partner, Robert Vitelli, were married — one year after New York legalized same-sex marriage.

A young man who had graduated from one of the LGBT Network’s programs arranged for the couple to get a special gift: A reprint of “The Original White House Cook Book, 1887 Edition.”

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