Convention head Villaraigosa blames delegates in ugly platform fight at DNC

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was the delegates’ fault.

Furiously trying to paper over a platform battle that muddied the party’s message and forced President Obama to intervene, Democratic National Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa said the anger and confusion over the way he managed a vote restoring passages on God and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to the platform Wednesday was the fault of unhappy delegates who failed to object to his ruling.

“There wasn’t any controversy,” Mr. Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, told The Washington Times on Thursday. “The delegates had 10 minutes to make an objection and they didn’t.”

When asked if the delegates knew they had the right to object, he said simply: “The delegates know the rules.”

Whether that explanation will fly, and whether the party can avoid lingering bitterness over its divisions on faith and Israel, is another story, with Republicans quick to pounce on the images of Democratic delegates on the convention floor booing when Mr. Villaraigosa gaveled God back into the party’s central policy statement.

Campaigning in Colorado Springs on Thursday, GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan took a jab at the about-face in Charlotte, saying Democrats were “against God before they were for him.”

The crowd Mr. Ryan was addressing started booing as soon as Mr. Ryan mentioned the contretemps. The Wisconsin congressman alluded to the fact that Mr. Villaraigosa ruled the amendments passed only after three consecutive voice votes, as it was not clear whether the “yeas” had outshouted the “nays.”

“It wasn’t really a popular reversal, if you watched it on TV,” Mr. Ryan said.

The mention of God and the clear statement of support for Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital had both been part of the 2008 Democratic platform, and there still was no clear explanation from party officials on why they were dropped in the original platform approved Tuesday.

After Mr. Villaraigosa’s efforts at damage control Thursday, a Democratic official briefing reporters said he believed delegates “generally do know” the rules governing platform debate and procedures. But when pressed on whether an objection would have prompted a roll-call vote of every delegate in the room, the same official said he didn’t know and would have to check.

That exchange prompted some snickering that the official didn’t know the rules while arguing that delegates do. In response to reports the White House opposed the original draft, party officials said privately part of the problem was the haste with which the revote was conducted.

“The president said do this and do it with dispatch, and many delegates were caught unaware,” the official said.

The idea that the platform was being amended so soon after Republicans highlighted the omissions only fueled the dissatisfaction on the floor, the official added.

“They were upset that they didn’t get notice that this was coming — but I do think that there was a sentiment that they were getting jerked around by Republicans.”

The unexpected floor battle has been the biggest hitch in Democrats’ hopes to project a united and invigorated image as Mr. Obama faces a tough re-election battle, threatening to upstage a highly anticipated address later in the day from former President Bill Clinton.

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