The Mile High club

Your field guide to Sacramento’s DNC delegation

At 19, Paula Villescaz, from Carmichael, is one of the youngest delegates to go to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. She won the spot over much better known candidates.

At 19, Paula Villescaz, from Carmichael, is one of the youngest delegates to go to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. She won the spot over much better known candidates.

Photo By Anne Stokes

While only 23 of California’s 441 delegates to the Democratic National Convention hail from the Sacramento area, the River City is sending Denver a diverse and accomplished crew.

The elder stateswoman is Alice Huffman, 72, a super delegate and president of the California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

At 19, Carmichael resident Paula Villescaz is the junior.

Huffman and 199 other California delegates, such as members of Congress and state politicians either apply or are appointed by candidates. But the other 241 are party activists and regular folks elected by fellow Democrats in each of the state’s congressional districts.

That’s what Villescaz did. And, with a little help from her friends and a 67-year-old former cable-industry lobbyist, she beat better-known opponents to win a spot in the delegation. Two 18-year-olds make her the third youngest California delegate.

Villescaz is a political science major at UC Berkeley and a volunteer in Charlie Brown’s 2006 campaign to unseat GOP Rep. John Doolittle. She decided she wanted to be a delegate because “whoever ended up being our nominee, it would be historic.”

Also running as a delegate from the 3rd District was Dennis Mangers, the former head of the California Cable & Telecommunications Association, one of Sacramento’s most generous art patrons and a leader in the gay and lesbian community.

Like Villescaz, Mangers was Clinton supporter. And like Villescaz, Mangers wanted to be a delegate in order to participate in a historic convention “reflective of the values of our party and its evolution.”

So, Villescaz cold-called Mangers and said they should run as a slate.

“Well, young lady, why should I do that?” asked Mangers, who attended his first Democratic convention in 1960 as a volunteer when he was student-body president at El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif.

“I know the younger folks and you know the more mature people,” the upstart Villescaz told him. She was astounded to learn Mangers had served two terms in the Assembly a decade before she was born.

After the two created a campaign strategy, Mangers put up money for a mailer and Villescaz and her mother, Maria, put in the time to get it sent.

It probably didn’t hurt that the election was held in the cafeteria of Villescaz’s old alma mater, Mira Loma High School, but when the polls closed, she and Mangers scored trips to Mile High Stadium. Not only Villescaz’s peers but also her former teachers were big supporters.

“Dennis won by a much smaller margin than I did, but we were able to pull it off,” Villescaz said with a laugh in an interview during her lunch break while working to re-elect Rep. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton.

To defray the travel costs of Villescaz and two other younger delegates—Don Gibson, a 20-year-old Clinton-backing UC Davis student, and Nate Osburn, a 28-year-old Obama supporter from Sacramento—Mangers and his spouse, Michael Sestak, hosted a fund-raiser with the help of Sacramento’s Stonewall Democrats.

Mangers also bought each of the three tickets to the convention’s Human Rights Campaign Rock to Win concert with Melissa Etheridge.

“It’s important for us ‘more mature’ people to make sure these young people have a really wonderful experience,” Mangers said.

Villescaz said she plans to blog about her experiences at the convention.

One of Sacramento’s super delegates can take credit for a $20 million outreach program to Latino voters in swing states like Florida, New Mexico and Nevada.

That was the price Steve Ybarra put on his vote in May. The move earned him national publicity and cost him his seat on the Democratic National Committee.

During the presidential primaries, neither candidate added a pro quo to Ybarra’s quid.

But, in one of those odd coincidences that happen so often in politics, on July 29, the DNC and the Obama campaign announced a $20 million investment in Latino voter outreach. Ybarra does get to keep his slot on the committee until after the election.

Willie Pelote, an at-large delegate for Clinton, is a regular at the Capitol as the chief lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He says he has successfully avoided going to a convention for 30 years.

“Things are going to happen in our country to make it so much better, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Pelote said.

Told the list of parties, cocktail receptions, dances and social events at the convention runs to 14 single-spaced pages, Pelote said, “My guys will have some assignment for me, so I’ll be staying away from that stuff.”

Karen Skelton, a Sacramento public relations executive, is taking her 9-year-old daughter Frances with her. Skelton, 47, has attended every Democratic convention since 1984. This is her first one as a delegate.

She ran for delegate with Steve Maviglio, deputy chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. And the two mounted a sophisticated campaign to get elected, including robo-calls to registered Democrats in Sacramento. Their fliers and e-mails portrayed him as Uncle Sam, Skelton as Rosie the Riveter.

Despite the convention becoming more “clinical, more disciplined with fewer surprises,” Skelton—like Sacramento’s other delegates—wanted to be part of the history. And wanted to have her daughter be part of it, too.

“Frances knows what the election is about. She thinks Obama is cool. His oldest daughter is exactly her age.” Frances also intends to blog about her impressions of the convention.

Mangers likens this convention to the first one he attended in which John F. Kennedy accepted his party’s nomination.

“Kennedy really represented a potential for changing direction. This election invoked memories of how inspired I was then. It’s the first time I’ve really felt that way since.”