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30 boro Dems set for Boston convention

Aside from being named a delegate to officially decide the party's candidate for president, Sengupta is one of four South Asians and Indians being saluted for their work in politics, she said.

"It's exciting," Sengupta said. "It's the first time a South Asian Indian will be honored at the convention."

Sengupta, who became the state's first Indian to hold office when she was elected to the district leader slot in 2002, and three others from across the country will be lauded during a celebration of America's South Asian and Indian population planned for July 27, the second day of the four-day convention.

About 30 delegates from Queens will be headed to Boston for the convention, which starts July 26 and ends July 29 after U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) accepts his nomination as the Democratic candidate for president.

"We're going to pick the next president of the United States," said U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside.) "It's exciting when you get to participate in the great American experiment of democracy."

Delegates from each state cast votes to officially nominate a candidate for the White House. Kerry and his running mate U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) are the presumptive nominees on the Democratic ticket.

"The main expectation is its an opportunity for John Kerry to really define himself and lay out what he thinks his vision is for the country," said U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights).

The role of a convention has evolved over time, said Crowley, who pointed out that they are now less about nominating and more about focusing attention on the candidates and their message.

"The convention is a way of coming together as a country to coalesce and build a strong Democratic message," said Patrick Jenkins, a delegate and aide for U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans). Meeks and other Congressional representatives are automatically given convention spots under the "super-delegate" mantle.

But Kerry's message must also be strong enough to defeat President George Bush, said Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), also a delegate.

"I want to make sure we get the necessary tools to convince all Americans to get rid of Bush and elect Kerry," he said. "I hope this will be a real catalyst for regime change."

State delegates typically gather each morning to discuss the day's events before heading out to caucus and issue-based meetings, said Brice Peyre, special assistant for U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) and a delegate out of Manhattan. In the caucuses and other meetings delegates discuss ways of approaching a range of topics, including education, Social Security, Medicaid, and craft an overall platform for the Democratic Party, he said.

"You get a lot of information from them in terms of what they're doing differently from us," said delegate Shirley Huntley, a School Board 28 member, said of other convention attendees.

But the convention is also a time for some fun, with red, white and blue streamers, balloons and confetti filling the air.

"They've added a lot of show business to it over the years for television, with the balloons and all," Ackerman said.

For some, the camaraderie of the event is worth the trip.

"There's generally a lot of excitement," said delegate and Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside). "It's like going to a football game and all of a sudden you're with all the other fans who are rooting for the same team. You build off each other."

Weprin, Maloney and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) are among the delegates who are sharing the experience with their families. Each is bringing a spouse and children to the convention.

"They get to experience a piece of history," Weprin said.

Peyre said he expects Democrats to run a much "tighter ship" than in years past. The number of speakers will be significantly smaller than the 2000 Los Angeles convention, which he said had "perhaps too many people speaking." Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore will take the stage Monday night and other party and Congressional leaders will also speak during the coveted prime-time events. After some debate, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) will speak to introduce her husband.

The event itself should be a more intimate affair, Peyre said. The Fleet Center has only 600,000 square feet of space as compared to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which had a footprint of more than 1 million square feet.

Security will be very tight, Peyre said, pointing out that the measures may give rise to logistical concerns. The train stop under the Fleet Center will be closed, unlike Penn Station when the Republican Nominating Convention is held in Madison Square Garden in late August and early September.

"There are always concerns about security with so many high-profile people in one place and attention focused there," Ackerman said. "Security will be heightened as it will be in New York."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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