Behind the Democratic Convention

Exclusive: Backstage at the Convention

Don't ask how I wound up backstage at the Democratic convention. All I can tell you is that between being backstage and on the floor, I saw a smoothly run operation.

There's a funny posting, though, on the Drudge Report, about the poor execution of balloon-dropping when John Kerry finished his speech. Those of us below noticed it, too. The balloons were slow to peel off the ceiling. Someone's head is sure to roll.

But the real fun was the comings and goings of politicians and entertainers, some of whom mixed well and some who didn't.

One heart-stoppingly strange moment came when former Clinton secretary of state Janet Reno attempted to come down the stairs close to where the New York delegation was sitting, only to be met by the ascending Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who was wearing his "Vote or Die" T-shirt, and seemed to be interviewing people for MTV.

"He probably thought she was Will Ferrell in drag," one onlooker quipped.

Backstage, I ran into the great R&B singer Mavis Staples, whose rendition of "God Bless America" literally sent chills through the FleetCenter.

Mavis — famous with her family group The Staples Singers for hits like "I'll Take You There" and "Respect Yourself" — flew in from Chicago for just one day with her sister Yvonne for the occasion.

Soon the "green room" filled up, with Willie Nelson and entourage (blissed out to be there) nearly colliding with Carole King and her band, plus actress Alfre Woodard.

Carole, a Brooklynite, has lived in Idaho for 26 years and is a staunch environmentalist as well as being the most successful songwriter in history. Before she went on stage, though, she suddenly grabbed Mavis and Yvonne and drew them into a kind of prayer circle with her entourage.

"We do this before every show," Carole said, and the whole group chanted a hum, or hummed a chant of unknown origin. Mavis snapped two fingers.

"I've never seen that before," she declared, and she's seen everything.

Alfre, one of our greatest actresses, said the Creative Coalition had kept her very busy during her week in Boston as their guest.

"They've been riding me hard and putting me away wet," she said, which is the funniest thing I heard all night.

In time, Al Franken, TV actors Jason Bateman and Richard Schiff, Congressman Harold Ford, Howard Dean and even Michael Dukakis drifted through our area, until finally both the Kerry and Edwards families made their appearances. Lots of applause echoed down the hallway.

Later, I heard that Alexandra Kerry is making a documentary about her father with Ruth Rogers, wife of Lord Richard Rogers of Britain, and the owner of London's famous River Cafe.

I ran into former Maine senator George Mitchell, now running Disney with Michael Eisner . He's extremely affable, but he didn't seem to know what Disney movies are out right now. "

Which is your favorite this summer?" I asked.

When he couldn't come up with a title, I suggested "King Arthur."

"I have the tape but I haven't looked at it yet."

OK, that's fair. How does he like running a movie company?

"Well, we're not just movies. That's only a small part of what we do."

That's as far as I got, but maybe there's more on his mind than how "The Village" will do this weekend. He was a great senator, so let's not be too rough on him.

Meanwhile, the big action, I'm told, was up in Corporate Suite 650, where celebs have been coming and going. Spotted over the last two nights: Ben Affleck! Alec Baldwin! and Leonardo DiCaprio!

Did we learn anything in Boston? Yes.

For one thing, we found out that it's a much better venue for a convention than Los Angeles. The Boston police were warm, courteous and helpful, and there was a very laid-back sense in the FleetCenter, no "culture of fear" and an absence of terrorism paranoia.

One Boston cop explained it to me this way: "Our cops are hometown guys and they love the city. Los Angeles cops are trained to be paramilitaristic. They come from all over the country and have no allegiance to the city."

I think there's a lot of truth to that. Boston turned out to be a winner in every respect. It's a city that's grown by leaps and bounds but retained a small-town feeling.

Of course, they still have to deal with the Red Sox and that accent! But that's another story.