Hundreds of Republican governors and state and local leaders were separated from the rest of their convention brethren Wednesday afternoon when they were ferried across the East River to a faraway land that many of them had only heard about. Brooklyn. They were on their way to "A Brooklyn State of Mind," a Republican Governors Association event sponsored by Keyspan energy corporation.
Fulton Ferry Landing offers such a magnificent close-up of downtown Manhattan that it almost feels that one could reach out and touch the buildings -- or poke a finger through the empty spaces where buildings used to stand. In fact, the clearly visible gap in the skyline left by the Twin Towers is what made this spot popular with mourning Brooklynites in the weeks after 9/11.
But the group gathered at the landing on Wednesday was not there to solemnly reflect upon the cityscape; they had come to the borough to eat, drink, socialize and, in the words of Governor Mike Huckabee from Arkansas, "prove that Republicans can rock!" Huckabee plays bass guitar for the band Capitol Offense, which headlined the party.
"Some of us are way too stiff for this event," said Huckabee as he took the microphone, the rest of the "offenders" warming up behind him. "Take off your suit jackets let's have some fun!"
Indeed, the attendees seemed tickled pink (er, red) by the theme of the party, "Brooklyn State Fair," which had presumably been chosen to make them feel more comfortable in the unfamiliar locale. There were bushels of apples (possibly from upstate New York, definitely not from an orchard in the borough), platters of mini burgers, wooden boxes of jumbo pretzels and trays of freshly spun cotton candy. Roving between the crisply suited politicians was a woman on stilts who fashioned hats out of red, white and blue balloons; a man on a unicycle, juggling bowling pins; and another 15-foot high woman dressed as the tarnished bronze Statue of Liberty (perhaps nervous about her French origins, Lady Liberty made her non-partisanship known. "I'm with the Green Party!" she quipped).
"State fair" is a cute idea -- for a political event in the suburbs of Boston, maybe. But for an area that is larger and more densely populated than many capital cities?
According to David Manning, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Keyspan, the original idea was to hold the party at Keyspan Park in Coney Island, and to maximize the retro-carnival vibe. However, that location presented too many logistical challenges, so the party was moved to Fulton Ferry Landing. "I bet 90% of the people here have been to a state fair," Manning said, gesturing around at the governors with their balloon hats and their American flags. "New Yorkers are really the only ones who can't go to a state fair." (Too bad there weren't many New Yorkers around to see what they'd been missing!)
After Capitol Offense had gotten the crowd going with classic hits like "ROCK in the USA" and "Mustang Sally," they turned the stage over to the Brooklyn Steppers, a spirited marching band from Crown Heights. The teens with their tubas and the female dancers with their swiveling hips and second-skin catsuits were a refreshing reminder of where we were. You don't usually see 50 black kids from the city boogeying down at a midwestern state fair. Then again, you don't usually see over five hundred Republicans rocking it out to "Sweet Home Alabama" in Brooklyn.