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Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny Wants His Party to Champion Immigrants as a Strength, Not Consider Them a Weakness

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"Thirty-five years ago," he said, "I wasn't standing up in a suit, or anything like this. I was in a one-bedroom apartment with two parents who were recent immigrants. A family where unemployment benefits and food stamps were what made the difference for us when times were tough.

"And because of good public schools and good public school teachers, public libraries, and good parks, because of Pell Grants and federal student loans, I was able to go from a kid whose parents didn't speak any English to working in the White House for the President of the United States. That only happens in America because of the Democratic Party."

How often do you hear a politician — even a Democratic one — talk publicly about the importance of food stamps? Or take pride in being the child of immigrants?

Cherny drove this message home, saying that only one party fights for public schools and regards immigrants as a strength not a weakness — the Dems. He talked about taking the battle to the "Russell Pearce Republicans," who are making the state a laughingstock, selling the state Capitol, and slashing education and Medicaid with unwholesome glee.

And then, Cherny ended with a moving vignette.

"Right now," he told the assembled, "somewhere in this state, there is a little kid who has no idea what we're doing here today. And maybe her parents are immigrants. And maybe they don't have a lot of money. But we are here today because we want to send a message to her that there are people out there ready to fight their heart out for her. That's why we're Democrats."

Afterward, I approached Cherny and joked that in the eyes of nativist, racist Republicans, he might be deemed an "anchor baby," as he was born in the United States a couple of years after his parents came here. He smiled and noted that his parents had green cards, so he might not meet that odious definition.

He decried Republinuts' attempts to change the 14th Amendment's birthright citizenship clause, calling it "un-American" and telling me that because of his background, "I take it personally."

Cherny said his parents were part of the arts community in Czechoslovakia and moved in the same dissident circles as playwright Vaclav Havel, who later became Czechoslovakia's president after the Velvet Revolution and the fall of communism. When his parents were still there, the commies were in power, and they ordered the Chernys to spy on their friends. When they refused, they were ordered out of the country.

Interestingly, all four of Cherny's grandparents were concentration camp survivors. He attended Harvard for undergrad and UC-Berkeley for law school. His wife, Stephanie, is an Arizona native, and they have two children, one born on election night eve 2010.

He's the author of the wonkish The Next Deal: The Future of Public Life in the Information Age and a work of history, The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour.

The Dems are lucky to have Cherny as their new state chair — he can make the case that Democratic values are American values, in addition to all his other qualifications.

Yet there are a number of disgruntled Dems who whisper about a lawsuit or about challenging Cherny's credentials to the Democratic National Committee.

Before Saturday's state committee vote, I asked Glassman if he would be inclined to sue or otherwise challenge Cherny if Cherny were to win.

"I'm not getting involved with lawyers. I never have," he told me. "I don't plan on it. I plan on staying involved in the party . . . I'm going to support whoever gets elected today."

That sounds pretty clear. Glassman must know that if he's attached to an effort to challenge Cherny, he'll kill any future he has in the ADP. Better for him to accept the loss gracefully, do everything he can to mend fences with Cherny, and set his sights on other goals.

What about the Democratic wackadoodles more hung up on parsing bylaws than fighting Republicans? Who knows? These nudniks may choose internecine warfare over supporting Cherny's battle against the Republiloons.

If they do, they will reveal themselves for the clowns they are. Also, they will be held up for public condemnation and ridicule.

Here's a suggestion: Cherny has a two-year term; if he fails to turn the party around, disaffected Ds can always throw him out in 2013. Isn't that what democracy is all about? Or are the donkey-crazies afraid that Cherny might actually be an effective leader?

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons