US Elections 2016

E-mail leak mars Democrat convention

Supporters of Bernie Sanders and opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement turn out for the Democratic convention opening night, where party officials are trying to unite delegates behind presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
A protester making his feelings known at a March For Bernie on Sunday, ahead of the Democratic National Convention which started in Philadelphia yesterday.
A protester making his feelings known at a March For Bernie on Sunday, ahead of the Democratic National Convention which started in Philadelphia yesterday.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Ms Wasserman Schultz at a rally for Mrs Clinton in Florida last Saturday. The Democratic National Committee's Chair has resigned.
Ms Wasserman Schultz at a rally for Mrs Clinton in Florida last Saturday. The Democratic National Committee's Chair has resigned.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Party's hopes for unity dashed by messages showing bias against Clinton's rival Sanders

The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia yesterday began under a cloud as hopes for a positive counterpoint to last week's chaotic Republican gathering were dashed by a troubling scandal.

On the eve of the event, just as thousands of party delegates were descending on the City of Brotherly Love, the woman in charge of the convention resigned amid the leak of a trove of e-mails showing that the party was not neutral in its handling of the presidential contest between Mrs Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was repeatedly interrupted and booed yesterday as she sought to speak to Florida's delegation.

She will resign after this week's convention but continue to help the Clinton campaign. She told delegates: "You will see me every day between now and Nov 8 on the campaign trail and we will lock arms and we will not stand down."

She added: "We know the voices in this room that are standing up and being disruptive, that's not the Florida we know. The Florida we know is united, the Florida we know will continue to create jobs."

The Sanders campaign has long complained that the party leadership at large and Ms Wasserman Schultz in particular have been biased against him. The internal e-mails released on WikiLeaks this week confirmed their suspicions.

About a thousand Sanders supporters protested near the site of the Democratic convention on Sunday, chanting pro-Sanders slogans and insisting that they would not vote for Mrs Clinton.

"Hey hey, ho ho, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has got to go!" chanted one group of protesters carrying a banner with Mr Sanders' slogan, "Feel the Bern".

Many of the protesters said they would not vote for Mrs Clinton even if it meant Republican candidate Donald Trump would become president.

"If we vote for her nothing is going to change. If Donald Trump becomes president for four years so be it," said Dr Anne Sumers, 59, who had turned up at the protest with a standee of Mr Sanders and a stack of Bernie or Bust signs.

She and other supporters of Mr Sanders are calling on superdelegates - the over 700 party insiders who get to nominate whichever candidate they like regardless of their performance at the primaries - to change their minds and back the Vermont senator instead at the convention.

Mr Sanders himself has welcomed the resignation of the party chair but gave no indication that he is considering challenging Mrs Clinton again. After an often heated primary campaign, Mr Sanders endorsed his rival earlier this month.

"While she deserves thanks for her service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people," he said.

"The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race."

His speech on the first day of the convention now takes on deeper significance as many look to see how or if he will try to assuage the renewed tensions in the party.

Though there was chatter that the Clinton campaign and other Democratic Party leaders had pressured Ms Wasserman Schultz to resign, the former secretary of state did not criticise her.

Mrs Clinton thanked her for her hard work and even gave her a new role in the campaign. Ms Wasserman Schultz will be honorary chair of the Clinton campaign's 50-state programme to help elect Democrats around the country.

Mrs Clinton's campaign aide also threw up a theory that the leaked e-mails were a bid by the Russian government to intervene in American politics.

Democrats had hoped to avoid the heckling, booing and overall chaos that plagued much of last week's Republican convention.

After picking Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her vice-presidential running mate last Friday, Mrs Clinton received the good news over the weekend that businessman Michael Bloomberg, who previously ran for mayor of New York as a Republican, would endorse her.

The Trump campaign thus revelled in the disarray that has now entered the Democratic Party camp.

"The Democrats are in a total meltdown but the biased media will say how great they are doing! E-mails say the rigged system is alive & well!" Mr Trump tweeted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'E-mail leak mars Democrat convention'. Print Edition | Subscribe