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Jewish Democrats Gather in Denver to Organize for 1992 Election Drive

Denver was the launching site this week for the first salvo of what Jewish Democrats predict will be a well-fought and exciting political battle for the November national elections.

In its first attempt nationwide to set up a regional grassroots organization, the National Jewish Democratic Council held a reception Sunday night at the Governor’s Mansion here and managed to attract more than 200 area Jews eager to lend their support, time, energy or money to Democratic candidates.

That is more than twice the number of politically active Jews the council had expected for the event, the first in a series of such gatherings slated for Jewish communities around the country.

“It’s a good omen,” an obviously enthused Steve Gutow, the group’s executive director, said in an interview. “In fact, it’s a very good omen.”

“We’re now beginning the real program of the organization,” Gutow told the participants later. “All of the eyes of the National Jewish Democratic Council are on you, and let me tell you Denver, you look very, very good.”

Gutow and the council’s lay leadership, including national executive committee member Robert Loup of Denver, were taking a close look at the Denver affair, considered a bellwether for the council’s national election-year strategy.

Representatives of local Democratic incumbents and some of the nation’s top Democratic presidential campaigns were interested, too.

The campaigns of Bob Kerrey, Bill Clinton, Tom Harkin and Jerry Brown all sent representatives to press the flesh, explain positions and sign up early campaign workers and supporters.

What they all saw was not only a larger-than-expected turnout, but a group of Jewish Democrats representing a wide spectrum in terms of age, marital status, profession and income level.

‘A PIECE OF THE ACTION’

Many of those in attendance were people not usually seen at Jewish communal activities, the implication being that there may be a previously unseen cadre of Jewish support for Democratic Party politics.

All of which is encouraging to the Democratic council, a group set up in December 1990, not necessarily to bring Jews back to the Democratic Party, but to bring them into the party’s internal apparatus and campaign organizations.

The council’s founders — leading Jewish activists like Loup, Stuart Eizenstat, Morton Mandel and Hyman Bookbinder — recognized that this is where party platforms and campaign positions are forged.

They worried that state and national party conventions were beginning to show signs of lagging Jewish participation in the 1980s, resulting in positions that were not always beneficial to Jewish or Israeli interests.

“If we’re a part of the Democratic Party,” Gutow told the Intermountain Jewish News last July, “we’ll have every right to talk policy. We’ve got to be a piece of the action.”

That theme was echoed at this week’s meeting by the introductory speakers, including Loup, who warned that Jewish concerns are already beginning to be “ignored or misunderstood” by the Democratic Party.

“Grassroots is the key to what we must do,” Loup said. “We must make our voices heard. We must make the party stronger.”

Sen. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.) took direct aim at the current Republican administration, saying that Americans are in danger of losing many of the educational and professional opportunities that the country should provide them.

‘TOUGHEST CHALLENGE THERE IS’

Wirth urged the assembled Democrats to carry the party’s message to voters, to the media and to influential individuals.

“It doesn’t happen if you stay home,” he said. “It doesn’t happen because people feel smug about where they are. It doesn’t happen because people have a lot of money. It happens because of hard work. Politics is hard work. It’s the toughest challenge there is.”

Colorado Gov. Roy Romer also took the opportunity to lob a few shells at the opposition, describing the GOP’s economic and social policies as based on post-World War II models and therefore hopelessly outdated.

The governor’s shopping list of national woes being neglected by the Bush administration included education, health care, government bureaucracy, child care, crime and the breakdown of the family unit.

“What we need is a call to action,” Romer said. “We’re not going to get to where we want to go with the present positions, and the reason we can’t there from here is that the world has changed.”

But the gathering was more than an airing of political polemics. Once state Democratic Party Chairman Howard Gelt took the podium, the meeting quickly became a working session.

Gelt, a member of the Jewish community, offered quick primers in the state’s delegate, caucus and convention systems. He told participants how to get involved in national and local campaigns and stressed the importance of Colorado’s first-ever presidential primary on March 3.

He also provided some old-fashioned political inspiration, telling the assembled activists-to-be that 1992 could be a very exciting year for the Democratic Party, one in which the party just might put its man back in the White House.

The busy sound of many pencils filling in blanks on volunteer pledge cards suggested that Gelt was not the only one who believed it.

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