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Democratic National Convention Poised to Kick Off Amid a Bit of Party Drama

Democratic National Convention
Greg E. Mathieson, Sr./REX/Shutterstock

PHILADELPHIA — The Democratic National Convention will offer many things that the Republicans’ gathering in Cleveland did not: More stars, more issue-oriented events, more party stalwarts.

On Sunday, the gathering got a dose of what best described the GOP for much of the week: drama.

The resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was buzzed about for much of the day among some arriving delegates, and when it became official later in the afternoon, the talk was of a potential successor, with names such as Martin O’Malley and Julian Castro bandied about.

Donna Brazile will serve as interim chair, assuming the post after the convention ends on Thursday.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was on a flight to Philadelphia from Los Angeles when the story broke. He, too, has been mentioned as a possible replacement, but he told party leaders that he needed to focus on an impending run for governor.

“Donna is a fantastic choice,” Villaraigosa told Variety. “She is really well loved by both party elders and by the rank and file. She is the perfect person to bring Democrats together between now and election day.”

Schultz’s resignation came after Wikileaks published a searchable trove of some 20,000 emails, including some showing DNC staffers making disparaging comments about Hillary Clinton’s rival, Bernie Sanders.

Schultz’s resignation is not a complete surprise: Some donors had expressed unhappiness with her tenure, particularly after Democrats suffered devastating losses in the midterm elections. After the release of the emails, some DNC staffers expected heads would roll before the convention started, even as Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook talked of the insidious nature of the hack on “State of the Union” on CNN, noting reports that hackers were in coordination with the Russians.

“If the Russians in fact had these emails, again, I don’t think it’s very coincidental that they are being released at this time to create maximum damage on Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump,” Mook said.

Ken Solomon, president of the Tennis Channel and DNC national finance co-chair, said that her resignation was “really unfortunate.”

“I am a big fan of Debbie’s,” he said. “She did a really good job. She’s a really good person and a really good leader, and it is disappointing. … She has the best interest of the party at heart.” He said that the timing was “horrible,” but that this was an “organizational issue, and I think it will pass.”

He also didn’t think it would impact fundraising.

“No way. And after last week [in Cleveland], are you kidding me?” He praised Clinton’s pick of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as a choice of running mate that will be “really consequential.”

Delegates, donors and party regulars began arriving on Sunday for a week of events that will take place in and around Philadelphia, many of them tied to issues like LGBT equality, gun control, equal pay and women’s rights. But the convention itself is taking place miles away at the Wells Fargo Center, located on the outskirts of the city near Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Expected to speak are Lena Dunham and America Ferrera, Chloe Grace Moritz, Star Jones and Debra Messing, among others. Eva Longoria, who spoke at the 2012 convention in Charlotte, N.C., will be attending, and there is speculation that Katy Perry and Demi Lovato will have roles as well.

Lady Gaga and Lenny Kravitz are scheduled to perform at a concert tied to the convention in Camden, N.J., while others expected to attend include Bryan Cranston and Janelle Monae. On Monday, Alicia Keys will take part in a Politico panel on criminal justice reform and is expected to do an intimate performance.

“When coming after Chachi and Duck Dynasty, I think there is a tremendous margin for growth,” quipped producer Eric Ortner, who has been a liaison between the White House and the industry in coordinating entertainment support for causes. He too will be in Philadelphia.

Inside the arena, donors took tours of the stage area, as some politicos practiced for their speeches later in the week. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) stood on stage, looking for where delegates from neighboring midwestern states would sit. They are not near the front — New York, Arkansas, Virginia  and Florida have those honors.

From her perch on stage, Klobuchar quipped about staging a “convention coup.” But she declined to comment on Schultz’s resignation.