Philly may have been extremely hot this week, but the ambitions on display among the city’s political class were hotter. I attended as many private parties as I could preceding and during the Democratic National Convention and made plenty of observations.
Saturday night, I attended the highly anticipated Kickoff Weekend Yacht Party, hosted by Pennsylvania State Rep. Jordan Harris and Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. The event was billed as a non-political fundraiser for the nonprofit Autism Speaks.
In some ways I found it impressive. The buffet and open bar were good, but the atmosphere was less appealing for me, because most of the folks there were my parents’ age. What most impressed me was the attendance of Philly’s black elite. By that I mean the powerful and the prosperous people. This was really the DNC edition of a black Martha’s Vineyard yacht party, the rich, black family reunion I never had.
While many of the state politicians were trying to appear relaxed before the big convention, there was definitely a lot of showmanship on the yacht.
Some attendees were newly elected from contested primaries, trying to be more social among peers who came in with big entourages and even bigger bottles of Ciroc. Cigar smoke was in the air on the top deck as Freemasons strolled to an impressive mix of old-school and contemporary hip hop as we cruised down the Delaware River on the Ben Franklin Yacht.
Get this party started
Monday night was supposed to be a DNC kick-off of impressive proportions. Initially I planned to go to a more youthful first-night party at CODA nightclub. That was a bust when I began to hear rumors that bouncers were boosting prices and charging a cover upwards of $25 and that there was not much hype inside. Yeah, no.
Fortunately, I was also invited to a more refined event. It was described to me as a “Senator Cory Booker Party” at a new Gayborhood bar, called Tiki. The Hawaiian-themed spot looked like the type of low-key place a big-name senator would hold his post-DNC reception. (I’m being sarcastic right now.)
Inside I saw members of the Congressional Black Caucus and City Hall staffers. I was lucky to bump into a few familiar faces, and I started to feel more confident that this could be legit.
The party (which, by the way, did not include food, an open bar, or even drink specials) started at 10 p.m., when New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was on television speaking to America. I arrived around 11 p.m. assuming he would make an appearance by 1 a.m. I’ve been to enough celebrity parties to know that the big names come late on purpose, to make it seem as though they just happened to walk into unforeseen pandemonium.
By midnight, the two floors were packed. Some guys, apparently Booker staffers, were acting as though he was on his way. I made my way downstairs near the door, anticipating his arrival like a member of the Secret Service. With every black Suburban that my friends and I spotted, we yelled, “It’s him!” But it was not.
Another bust. Midnight became 1 a.m., and by 1:45, I was requesting an Uber. According to a staffer, Booker skipped the party because Monday night’s speeches ran too long, and he was tired and chose to see some family in Jersey instead. #WasteMyTime2016
Tuesday night social
Tuesday evening was a little better. I attended the exclusive Equality PA SkyGarten party at an outdoor beer hall soaring some 50 stories above the city. It was a fundraiser for the leading Pennsylvania LGBT advocacy group’s “get out the vote” initiative. The room was filled with influence — big donors, executive directors, elected officials, and the like.
Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims was there. As was Philadelphia drag superstar Martha Graham Cracker, who jokingly fondling the openly gay rep during her headline performance. Cocktails flowed and hors d’oeuvres came back-to-back in heavy rotation — scallops, shrimp, antipasto, mountains of cheese. It was excess at its finest, but for a damn important cause.
Rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers of the state’s LGBT community was an important reminder that there are still progressive issues that need to be fought for. While I enjoyed the party for all its food and fun, it felt better to know it was truly a “party with a purpose.”
On the other side of things, one party without any clear purpose was at Revolution House in Old City, hosted by iHeartMedia and Global Strategy Group. It was a hot mess. A crowded, hot, hot mess. Obnoxious, politics-loving millennials from across the country ran wild. I was there for 30 minutes and not a minute more.
I moved on to CODA in Center City — yes, the one with crazy price spikes the night before — but this time they didn’t want money. They wanted your name on the list. Black Entertainment Television was hosting an exclusive, invite-only party there that was expecting to have big names, a top-shelf open bar, and live performers. I tagged along with a friend’s state rep crew. But before I got past the red carpet, a black SUV pulled up out front.
FYI to those who don’t know — this week, if you spot a black SUV of any kind, anticipate a celebrity. But not Cory Booker. (Yeah, I’m still a little bitter.)
When Trevor Noah from “The Daily Show” hopped out of the van, I instantly knew this party would be legit. When I made it inside, everyone you never would image being there was there. Attorney General Eric Holder was upstairs casually watching the crowd. Former Mayor Michael Nutter was being himself; take that as you like. District Attorney Seth Williams made an appearance with a small crew — awkward. An array of local and national stars mixed in what appeared to be a circle of politicos and their staffers.
As word got out about the party, the venue got packed. The open bar felt like the line for Noah’s ark. The heat was intense. Pretty soon, I walked outside past a long line of folks who wanted to say they were there. I was in an Uber by 1:30 a.m. I was over it.
Let’s put on a show
If there was anything I learned from these parties, it’s that they are less about what is said and more about what is suggested. These events were full of political figures who were either trying to exude showmanship and cement their prominence in the city during the election year — or trying to network their way into a piece of that prominence.
The most recent election cycle saw a reshifting of power in the city, and the DNC parties is where a lot of that played out. Who came in with the entourage? Who didn’t show up at all? These were the kinds of questions on the minds of those who have been looking work since their first-choice candidate lost in November.
For these people, the parties were about more than having a swell time; they were about seeking a second shot. I couldn’t tell you how many people I saw practicing elevator pitches in the men’s room mirror or in a shared cab, hoping they looked good enough to draw the attention of the big names.
While I hope such madness will cool off as the DNC winds down, I predict it will actually rise. Stay hungry, my friends.