In an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus, the very first “drive-in edition” of the Polk County Democrats’ annual Steak Fry was held on Sept. 11.
The event took place on a grass field in Water Works Park. With the help of numerous volunteers, hundreds of cars were parked in rows to observe the event through the safety of their windshields. Anyone roaming outside of a vehicle, including volunteers, was asked to don a mask for the safety of others.
Attendees dined on steak, chicken or vegan alternative meals while watching video messages from local candidates and an assortment of political skits and parodies from shows like “Saturday Night Live.”
According to Politico, the steak fry fundraiser tradition formally began in 1987 as the “Harkin Steak Fry,” hosted by former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. The Harkin Steak Fry drew A-list celebrities from both entertainment and politics. In 2006, future President Barack Obama made his Iowa political debut there as a young senator from Illinois.
After Harkin’s retirement in 2014 the fundraiser dropped Harkin from the name but continued as the “Polk County Steak Fry” under the guidance of the Polk County Democratic Party.
Sean Bagniewski, chair of the Polk County Democrats, said in his introductory speech that this year’s event sold over 1000 tickets and drew over 800 vehicles–arguably an impressive turnout, by pandemic standards.
“The reason we are all here in cars tonight is because Donald Trump downplayed the coronavirus this spring,” Bagniewski said. “More than 190,000 Americans have paid with their life because of his lies and lack of leadership.”
In his speech, Bagniewski told the crowd that early in the pandemic there had been concern over whether or not the event could even take place.
“After weeks of discussion and planning, more than 150 volunteers…have come together to make one of the great American political events possible again this year,” Bagniewski said. “All of our volunteers, from the parking team all the way to the clean-up team, are wearing face masks and face shields.”
Other notable speakers in live attendance included Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek, Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield and Congresswoman Cindy Axne. The event’s headliners, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris, all appeared remotely with pre-recorded speeches.
Democratic Iowans from across the state came to take part in the socially distanced festivities. Lori Seeley and Sherri Sheid came all the way from Perry with a group of friends to attend the event.
“We just have a great group of gals that are very strong democrats and we believe in supporting local activities,” Seeley said. “We thought this sounded fun – friendship, fellowship, and food.”
Thanks to the efforts of the Polk County Democratic Party, its many volunteers and hundreds of attendees, the 2020 Drive-In Steak Fry was one for the history books.