Mercer Island delegates headed to national convention

This summer, three Islanders will travel to the Democratic Party’s National Convention in Denver, where they are expected to select the first African-American presidential nominee of a major party.

This summer, three Islanders will travel to the Democratic Party’s National Convention in Denver, where they are expected to select the first African-American presidential nominee of a major party.

For this group of Islanders selected to serve as delegates at the Democratic National Convention, no presidential election or selection process has ever seemed so important or historically significant. The efforts of these Islanders also reflect how much interest voters throughout the country have in the presidential campaigns of Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It is the first open-seat presidential election in nearly three decades when a two-term president will be stepping down and his vice president will not seek to take over the vacancy.

As such, Americans this fall will likely choose between a man whose mother resided on Mercer Island and graduated from Mercer Island High School before moving to Hawaii and marrying Obama’s Kenyan father, or the Republican challenger, the solution-oriented Arizona Sen. John McCain, whom Island Republicans support in his current presidential bid, as they did in 2000.

For Island resident and attorney Richard E. Mitchell, the chance to support Obama for the presidency is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Mitchell, 42, who is married to Dawn R. Mitchell and has three sons, has served since January 2005 as the Legal Counsel to Gov. Chris Gregoire. Biracial himself, part South Asian and West Indian, Mitchell immigrated to the United States from England at age 12 and received degrees in architecture from Cornell University, urban planning from the University of Michigan and law from Syracuse before moving to Seattle in 1995.

He said Obama “embodies the complexity of American society, represents the need to focus on right versus wrong and not left versus right, becoming one people and one nation as opposed to whether you are black or white, Asian or Latino, or one religion over another.

“This is what I find most compelling about him,” said Mitchell. “He’s remained true to the richness of his heritage, of our nation’s heritage. That’s what drew me to him.”

Mitchell said he is ecstatic to join other Democrats for his first national convention this August. He has been supporting Obama for much of the campaign, raising funds in the state and promoting him at the local caucuses held in February. During a fundraiser in 2007, Mitchell promised to raise more than $10,000 for the Illinois senator, and having done so, he met Obama, among other local supporters.

“I am just one of many Americans who has been galvanized by this presidential campaign — galvanized to participate by more than just voting in the caucus or primary process,” Mitchell said. “This is, as Sen. Obama said last night in Minneapolis, a defining moment for all Americans. It is an opportunity for this wonderful nation to continue on its path to creating the perfect union, to turning the page on failed policies and to focusing on new policies and ideals that create change. Sen. Obama’s ability to focus on these themes during his entire campaign has made this campaign extraordinary.”

Another Island Democrat heading to Denver this summer is the Chair of the 41st District Democrats, Barbara Geller. A sincere supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Geller said she has enjoyed this presidential campaign more than any other in her time. She said she is proud to be a part of the campaign in particular because of the two history-making candidates of her party.

“For me, it’s a personal choice. Hillary Clinton represents what I think this country needs most. I think she is the most prepared. She has earned every delegate she has,” said Geller.

The sole Island delegate reserved for Clinton, Geller said that the female candidate has worked hard for her loyalty but, in the end, she will support whoever the party nominates.

“I am a party person,” said Geller. “I will be there in support for whoever the nominee is. As the senator has said, the most important thing is that we elect a Democrat to the White House come November.”

Reverend and educator Willetta “Kiti” Ward will also attend the convention as the Island’s third delegate. She said she got involved in the Obama campaign because she, too, wants to see change. Along with her daughter, she is honored to be instrumental in bringing out that change. Ward’s daughter, Sara, a political science major who recently completed her junior year at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., is also helping the Obama campaign. The younger Ward is working as an intern this summer for Obama out of his office in Washington, D.C.

As a delegate for Senator Obama, Ward said her family firmly believes the senator will be elected as the 44th president and bring hope, policy and strategy for all Americans.

“My grandmother, whose slave grandfather and Native American grandmother started churches on the eastern seaboard, believed this day would come,” Ward said. “As did my mother — one of the first African-American women to belong to the League of Women Voters. I celebrate this day in honor of them and in celebration for our great country.”

The Reporter will also profile the Island’s Republican delegates who will attend their national convention in September.