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DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION '96 | FROM THE FLOOR

Fakery, Scripts and a Hunt for Famous Faces

August 27, 1996|BILL BOYARSKY and AMY WALLACE

As the opening gavel sounded, 15-year-old Matthew Dunn scurried across the convention floor passing out handmade signs to the Washington delegation. We were touched by the quaint pictures of Northwestern trees and the childish handwriting.

Just as we were going to interview Dunn about his artwork, however, he turned and headed for Texas. He had handmade signs for them, too--these with cactuses. Turns out Dunn, a Chicago high school student, was an agent of the Clinton/Gore campaign, which had produced these "authentic," attention-grabbing signs in the campaign back room. So much for spontaneity.

But there was some real emotion in the sparsely filled hall as Monday's afternoon session began. "Wow!" said a breathless Jennifer Stein, 18, a delegate from Encino. "I can hardly believe I'm here."

*

If you thought all the television interviews on the convention floor Monday sounded suspiciously similar, here's why: The delegates are scripted.

We filched a list of "talking points" being distributed to the delegates. It seemed to be written for dimwits, with the important parts of the Clinton/Gore agenda typed in capital letters. The president's message, the document told us, "is about LEADERSHIP . . . OPTIMISM . . . [and] REAL PEOPLE'S LIVES."

Then there was a section called HOW OUR CONVENTION WILL BE A CONTRAST TO REPUBLICAN CONVENTION. "Ours," the earnest document promised, "will be about ISSUES, NOT INSULTS . . . THE FUTURE, not the past . . . [and] will be built around REAL NEWS."

We are not holding our breath.

*

The California delegation and a few hundred hangers-on gathered the other night at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to eat hot dogs and drink where the nitty-gritty of capitalism gets done.

On the trading floor of the world's largest financial marketplace, we spotted what we were sure was Sharon Stone's back. But before we could grill the movie vixen on the intricacies of the Democratic platform, she was gone. We had to content ourselves with the next best thing: A mock trading session in the pit. The commodity: Raisins.

About 100 people--many of them clad in garish patriotic attire--mashed against one another, waving their arms and screaming. Among them was state Sen. Diane Watson of Los Angeles, who looked a little baffled by what we agreed was an incomprehensible ritual.

Imagine, we whispered to her, if the scene on the Senate floor in Sacramento ever got as loony as this.

"Oh, lord," Watson said, shaken by the thought. "It's already bad enough."

Later, Assembly Democratic Leader Richard Katz said he had enjoyed the mock trading exercise for one reason. "It made what we all do for a living look normal," said the San Fernando Valley pol.

*

Our celebrity hunt continued at the party thrown by Norman Lear's People for the American Way.

A blast of heat greeted us as we entered the Adams Room of the old but refurbished Palmer House Hilton, home of many a dirty political deal of the type that People for the American Way and its high-minded members would scorn.

There were a bewildering number of famous faces. In the doorway was former New York Rep. Bella Abzug, while that sharp-chinned woman nearby looked a lot like former Colorado Rep. Patricia Schroeder (or was it Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma?) Suddenly, we were face to face with Bianca Jagger, Mick's ex.

Bianca Jagger is a beauty, with black hair and smoldering dark eyes. We were speechless. And so, for some reason, was she. Even as her companions chatted away, she did little but stand there and look intimidating.

It was probably just as well. Jagger is a mean hand with a libel suit, having won damages a few years ago from the publishers of "The Andy Warhol Diaries," which, she said, defamed her.

We got our voice back when we met a pleasant, spiky-haired young man standing in the hottest, most airless corner of the room. He was actor Billy Baldwin, wearing blue jeans and a dark blazer, and he was surrounded by fans.

Baldwin is a leader of the Creative Coalition, a good-works group of movie stars and other artists. We knew many actors who'd gone into politics and wondered why Baldwin had become one of them.

It turned out that politics came first. A political junkie as far back as junior high school in Long Island, N.Y., Baldwin majored in political science in college and later was an aide to a Democratic congressman from New York. Only then, he told us, did he get into the family business: acting.

"Ronald Reagan in reverse," he quipped.

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