Originally created 07/17/04

Convention gets donkey delegate



RISING FAWN, Ga. - Deep in this corner of rural Georgia, in the foothills of Lookout Mountain, lives the secret weapon of the Democratic Party.

Most of the local Republican operatives wouldn't recognize him as such. He's fairly quiet and mostly keeps to himself. But he's all but guaranteed to be the focus of photographers' lenses when he attends his party's national convention this month in Boston.

People call him Swifty. To the Democrats, he's the official donkey delegate of their 2004 national convention.

This purebred donkey is packing it up for the 942-mile haul to New England to help win over undecided voters for his party's man, John Kerry.

Increased security measures because of the threat of terrorism almost kept Swifty out of the convention. No one but delegates and staff - not even officially designated donkeys - will be allowed into the convention venue, the Fleet Center.

No one in charge of the vendor area near the center seemed to know what to do with a donkey, and the official word from convention organizers was that there would be no room for Swifty.

"I was almost in tears," said Bridget Martin, a spokeswoman for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers who helped organize the donkey's trip for Swifty's handler, Michael Powell, a member of the union. "I was so upset when I got word that it wasn't going to happen."

Enter the Kerry campaign, where officials had heard of the four-legged delegate's plight and were determined to make the trip happen.

"I was called by Sen. Kerry's office and asked if we'd be able to accommodate Swifty," said Jo Anne Baxter, a spokeswoman for the Boston zoo.

She was quick to point out that the move to accommodate Swifty wasn't a partisan one.

"If President Bush wants to come and have an elephant greeting our visitors, he'd be welcomed as well," she said.

The 10-year-old, gray, brown and white donkey who worked briefly on a stud farm before entering politics, will be housed at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo during the convention.

He will be greeting Democratic delegates as they enter the park for one of the convention's biggest parties.

It will be his second convention appearance. He made his political debut in 2000, when he greeted delegates at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Swifty's owner, Morris Powell, first got involved in politics more than two decades ago.

"I started fooling with politics back in 1980. I was real high on Jimmy Carter," said the 61-year-old farmer, who donned a black cowboy hat and blue Kerry button during the interview.

He decided six years ago that his farm would be a good home for his party's animal mascot.

"I probably shopped for this donkey for a year to find the one I wanted," said Mr. Powell, who donned a black cowboy hat and blue John Kerry button during a recent visit. "When I found him, I knew right off that he was the right donkey."

But there was a problem. A Baptist who never drinks alcohol, Mr. Powell was upset with the animal's name: Tennessee Whiskey.

While Swifty's name now conjures images of the swift boat Mr. Kerry famously piloted during the Vietnam War, Mr. Powell actually lifted it from a character in a Western movie.