The Delegate Touch

A Republican smothers a protest with love.

Casting delegates before swine
Casting delegates before swine

NEW YORK—The dance craze sweeping New York this week is the Republican Scamper. It goes like this: Sign-wielding mob approaches man in pinstriped suit and power tie. Man’s face goes maroon, and he scampers in the opposite direction. If mob follows, man performs the companion number, Republican Screams for a Cop.

The sidewalk outside the Hilton New York Tuesday seemed like an ideal spot to watch the scampering. By 9:30 a.m., more than 20 protesters in pink shirts had gathered near the valet stand. As the delegates from Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania hurried out the hotel’s front door, the protesters donned pig noses and waved bumper stickers that read “Hallibacon.” They chanted, “Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown & Root, go to Iraq and loot, loot, loot!” Then they threw phony $100 bills in the air.

TV cameras swiveled between the protesters—now chanting, “No-bid contracts!”—and the Republicans desperately trying to hail a cab. It seemed like a goofy triumph for the mob, until a man with close-cropped hair stepped forwarded and extended his hand. He was Mark Gillen, he said, and he was one of the GOP’s alternate delegates from Pennsylvania. “I didn’t come out here to engage,” he explained, “I came out here to catch a bus, which I missed.” Before long, Gillen had smothered the protest with love.

Gillen began by reeling off his heartland bona fides. His father was a steelworker, his mother a registered Democrat. He worked for a nonprofit group and earned $37,500 per year. His semi-detached house was valued at $86,000. In his spare time, he flew to Mexico to do volunteer work. Whereas most convention delegates are wealthy donors or GOP apparatchiks, Gillen had gone door-to-door to gather signatures. “Those of us who did this the hard way are not employees of Halliburton,” he said with a shrug. “We know little to nothing about the inner workings of oil companies.”

The protesters seemed to regard Gillen with a mix of bemusement and wonder. Here was a living, breathing Republican who was winning them over with compassionate conservatism. Soon, the demonstration had ended and the reporters had trained their attention on Gillen. “The important thing for us is to get out here and find out what makes these folks tick,” he said, sounding like a candidate for mayor. Then he asked a reporter to snap a photo of him with the protesters.

One protester, Yannis Cosmadopoulos, still had his pig nose hanging around his neck. “That was pretty good, the whole ‘My father was a steelworker, I live in a detached house, I do social work’ thing,” he said. “I remember all that because I heard him say it five times. He’s got the bullet points down. The man plays the media game well.”

Cosmadopoulos turned and noticed that Gillen had cornered his girlfriend, Jennifer Gordon, and was showing great interest in her career as a drama therapist. “What, exactly, does drama therapy cure?” A reporter suggested that Cosmadopoulos might want to rescue his girlfriend. “No, I think she’s OK,” he said.

Gillen regarded Cosmadopolous and Gordon as friends for life. “What I’d love for you to do is be able to meet my wife and children,” he said. “They’re just a delight. There’s Hannah, Glory, and Grace—she’s just 4 months.” The couple was now edging down the sidewalk. “If you’re in the neighborhood and you see us with a baby buggy, just flag us down!” Gillen called. The couple turned and walked away.

After two hours of working the pavement, Gillen was in an expansive mood. “The less we look at one another through a telescope, and the more we look at one another through a microscope, the better off we’ll be,” he said. A few minutes later, he apologized and excused himself. He was on his way to feed the homeless in the Bowery.