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Democratic Party history from the year you were born

  • 1981: Hunt Commission creates superdelegates

    Democrats created a commission named after its chairman, North Carolina’s Gov. James Hunt to change how the party chooses its presidential candidate. The commission created superdelegates, or unpledged delegates. In 2018, the party revised the superdelegate system to reduce their influence and they can no longer participate in the first round of balloting.

    [Pictured: An overhead view of the crowd at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.]

  • 1982: Cuomo wins gubernatorial race

    Mario Cuomo won the race for New York governor, going on to be a three-term governor. He was a part of the liberal wing of the Democratic party who considered running for president, but in the end, declined. In his speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, he told President Ronald Reagan: “Mr. President, you ought to know that this nation is more a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ than it is just a ‘shining city on a hill.’”

    [Pictured: Mario Cuomo waves to supporters after defeating GOP candidate Lew Lehrman on Nov. 2, 1982.]

  • 1983: Chicago elects first Black mayor

    Harold Washington became the first African American elected mayor in Chicago, defeating Mayor Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley, the son of the former Mayor Richard J. Daley, in a primary. Residents were unhappy with Byrne, and many African Americans had registered to vote. He died shortly after he was elected to his second term, suffering a heart attack in City Hall.

    [Pictured: Chicago mayoral candidate Harold Washington smiles and waves as he moves through a crowd of supporters on April 1, 1983.]

  • 1984: Ferraro joins Democratic ticket

    Democrats chose New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as their vice presidential candidate, who with former Vice President Walter Mondale took on President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush. The Democrats lost, but Ferraro made history as the first woman to be on the ticket for a major party.

  • 1985: Bipartisan effort to balance the budget

    The Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 represented a bipartisan effort to reduce the federal deficit. It created a method of automatic enforcement called sequestration, but did not significantly affect the deficit.

    [Pictured: Bipartisan Congressional leadership meeting with Alan Simpson, Bob Dole, Robert Byrd, Bob Michel, and Jim Wright in the White House Cabinet Room, on Nov. 12, 1985.]

     

  • 1986: Iran-Contra affair is revealed

    President Ronald Reagan revealed that the United States had secretly sold arms to Iran in violation of federal laws, and had diverted between $10 million and $30 million from the arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras. The Reagan administration denied the sale was connected to the release of the Iran hostages. Two years later, the Democratic-controlled House voted against $36.2 million in new aid to the contras despite entreaties from the administration.

    [Pictured: Oliver North is sworn in on his first day of testimony at the Iran Contra hearings on July 7, 1987.]

  • 1987: Congress overrides Reagan’s veto

    Congress moves to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollutants in water. When President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Water Quality Control Act, it overrode him. The act amended the Clean Water Act for research, pollution control programs, and other purposes.

    [Pictured: President Reagan at the signing ceremony for the Federal Debt Limit and Deficit Reduction Bill at the Rose Garden on Sept. 29, 1987.]

  • 1988: Texas’ Richards speaks at convention

    As Texas state treasurer, Ann Richards delivered the keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. She mocked then-Vice President George H.W. Bush with such lines as “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” She went on to be elected governor of Texas, but was defeated for re-election in 1994 by George W. Bush.

    [Pictured: Ann Richards, Texas state treasurer, covers the keynote address at the opening session of the Democratic National Convention on July 18, 1988.]

  • 1989: First African American is elected governor

    Lawrence Douglas Wilder became the first African American to win a gubernatorial race when he took Virginia’s top job. Wilder, a lawyer, was elected lieutenant governor in 1985. At the time he was the first African American to be victorious in a statewide race. He very briefly considered vying for the Democratic nomination for president in 1991, but withdrew early.

    [Pictured: Governor-elect Lawrence Douglas Wilder on Feb. 6, 1990.]

  • 1990: Dinkins becomes New York’s mayor

    David Dinkins became the first African American mayor of New York City as the city faced serious problems, from AIDS to homelessness. He served one term during a time of racial tensions in the city. His election followed the rape of a white jogger in Central Park and the killing of a Black teenager in Brooklyn. He failed in a re-election bid, losing to Rudy Giuliani in 1993.

    [Pictured: Mayor-elect David Dinkins and his wife Joyce on Nov. 7, 1989, in New York City.]