SACRAMENTO — What it came down to, really, was a question of kiwi.
Fitting, really, to have the search for style in Sacramento rest on an agricultural product. Fitting, since this capital city traditionally sits like a Midwest outcropping, above slick San Francisco and sprawling Los Angeles--not a bumpkin, but a country cousin in last year's suit.
This style quest ranged over the parties accompanying the inaugural festivities--that formal time when the governor and seemingly any official with a state flag and higher ambition gets to entertain supporters, givers, party faithful and Statehouse familiars.
Beginning Sunday night, the parties were as varied as the menu at Frank Fats, this city's most famous hangout. Fund-raisers with fancy food were served up right alongside cookies and coffee from Styrofoam cups.
The kiwi? Ah, yes. This once-trendy food showed up both at the afternoon reception at the old Odd Fellows Hall (honoring state Treasurer Jesse Unruh) and at the private, $650-a-head Rotunda reception preceding the Inaugural Ball at the Community Center for Gov. George Deukmejian. Kiwi, almost a cliche of nouvelle cuisine, was indeed a highlight of the Sacto cuisine.
At the Deukmejian party, the kiwi lay pristine and peeled--a perfect reflection of the well-orchestrated upscale event. And quite a change from the last inaugural, when high-paying supporters crushed in a low-ceiling hotel ballroom. Now the second-term Republican governor and his wife, Gloria, received about 1,300 special guests. Despite the average 20-minute receiving line wait--in unseasonably moderate weather and down a long Capitol hallway--the closed-to-the-press-unless-armed-with-somebody's-spare-ticket party was as smooth as a creme brulee.
Unruh's reception had more than a modicum of both sentiment--the four-term Democratic state treasurer has been suffering from cancer--and style. Here again, kiwi. And pea pods filled with some white stuff. Only this time, the caterer had decided to leave the coat on the kiwi, a fruit once termed "the suede potato."
If kiwi--dressed or undressed--is not a fitting standard of style, perhaps the measure should be double-breasted suits--quick becoming standard attire here, with most wearers looking a plumper reflection of that dandy, Speaker Willie Brown. There were other inaugural accoutrements--like the special white-satin name tags proclaiming the wearer part of "commemorating the Inauguration of California State Controller the Honorable Gray Davis" or the embossed cocktail napkins carrying Unruh's name and the number 5,589,633--his "probably" record-setting vote tally.
Or it could be money. Money passes for style quite nicely. Especially in political circles.
Are these your financial supporters, Sen. Alan Cranston was asked at the Davis fund-raiser.
"If not, they will be," the saucy septuagenarian said.
Real-estate developer Jeff Berger, who would prefer "not to have his name in print" but was happy to identify himself as a friend of former Gov. Jerry Brown, had pulled together the $70,000 event with folks like Beverly Hill's Al and Marilyn Gersten, putting a dent in Davis' campaign debt of about $700,000. Controller-elect Davis played the inaugural for all he could, even having temporary stationery made up for his temporary title.
Described by other Democrats as their party's top fund-raiser and reportedly already running hard for the 1990 gubernatorial election, Davis never stopped working the party.
Davis' clever thunder was mildly stolen by Cranston, himself a former controller, who read a letter he had received at his election in 1960, asking "What do you control?" Written by cartoonist Lee Falk, the letter said the office was perfect for California, where a bunch of people had apparently sat around and said, "Hey, let's have a controller." And only then asked, "What will he do?"
The big inauguration and party for Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp was to be held Monday afternoon in L.A. The morning ceremony here was simple--in the Lincoln Plaza Auditorium and followed by cookies and coffee. Again, a former officeholder almost stole the show--Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, who announced that in the November election, "My opponent was named 'no,' and (Van de Kamp's) was named 'who.' "
Afterward, the Democratic attorney general, complimented on his necktie, whipped it around to show that it was his "annual purchase" from the classy Paul Talbot shop in Carmel. Hey, Jack Flanagan (the Orange County Republican political operative) flipped his tie over--and it too was from Paul Talbot. Perhaps ties are the arbiters of style of Sacramento?
A third fellow, political consultant Joe Cerrell, embarrassedly pointed out that his tie was probably the cheap kind that a department store didn't bother to label.