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DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION '96 | FROM THE FLOOR

Seen: No Bulls but a Coyote, Chameleon

August 28, 1996|BILL BOYARSKY and AMY WALLACE

Every night of convention week has a party that's said to be the "hottest ticket in town." To gain admission to these events people lie, steal or threaten. We just beg.

We were reduced to groveling at the "HOOPLA" event, a party at sports superstar Michael Jordan's restaurant for New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. The shindig was hosted by Phil Jackson, coach of the Chicago Bulls, who was a New York Knick with Bradley years ago.

The prospect of their reunion--as well as the rumor that a few Bulls might show--spurred competition for tickets to NBA playoff levels.

Stern-faced guardians barred the entrance. Admission buttons were given only to those on the guest list (not us) but we whined our way in. And for what? A bunch of guys standing around drinking and smoking huge cigars. Worse, there wasn't a Bull in sight.

That's the dirty little secret of these convention affairs. The anticipation and the hype beforehand is often better than the event itself.

*

Marin County, not surprisingly, has the hippest delegates. We spotted Clarence Clemens, the saxophonist who used to wail with Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, on the dance floor, pointy boots on his feet and braids on his head. The Sausalito delegate is interspersing his political duties with a lucrative sideline: interviewing conventioneers for Fox News. Clinton, he told us, "is the man."

Susie Tompkins, former owner of the trendy Esprit clothing line, is here representing the hippie town of Bolinas.

And then there's Peter Coyote, the actor from Mill Valley, who until a few months ago wasn't even a registered Democrat--he was a Green. We interrupted his breakfast to find out how he was liking his first convention.

"It's impossible chaos. You exist in a state of overload from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed," the delegate said, confiding that the Democratic Party has scheduled him around the clock, sometimes for three events at a time.

Coyote, who wore a denim-blue suit and a single hoop earring, was realistic about his role as a celebrity: "To garner media time." But to hit all the events, he has had to do what he called "Olympic flitting."

"Before I came here my goal in life was to be shallow and attractive," Coyote told us. "But after being exposed to the Democratic Party, I want to learn how to become totally insubstantial."

*

Like everyone else around here, we've been watching the attempted makeover of Al "The Bore" Gore.

We hear the famously uptight vice president now has two gag writers: Al Franken, the author of "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Fat Idiot," and--oddly--Norman Ornstein, the oft-quoted egghead from a Washington think tank. As Gore tours the convention, he's trying out jokes that range from the Jewish mother genre to self-flagellation.

At a breakfast with the California delegation Tuesday, Gore used his own stiffness to advantage when he appeared on the same podium with Willie Brown, the extroverted mayor of San Francisco.

"People always say that he and I have a lot in common: flamboyance, excitement, charisma," Gore said, waving his arms exaggeratedly to punctuate every word. But then, he reverted to his usual dullness, adding: "We're always confused."

OK, so he's not that funny. Maybe Gore has potential, but so far he's just a work in progress.

*

We bumped into our favorite rabbis Tuesday at the Chicago Four Seasons Hotel.

Just two weeks ago, we'd seen the same two--Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of Los Angeles' Simon Wiesenthal Center--at the Republican National Convention in San Diego. We wondered why they were working both sides of the street.

They explained that they were looking to promote K'Vod Ha Briyot--respect for mankind. And political conventions, they said, are a great place to schmooze.

"Even at the most exciting conventions," Cooper said, "you've got a lot of well-informed people with a lot of time on their hands."

They're not the only ones hedging their bets. Corporations like Philip Morris, Chrysler and Anheuser-Busch have wined and dined delegates in both cities. But unlike the lobbyists, the rabbis aren't promoting products.

In San Diego, where the GOP fought over whether to include tolerance language in the party platform, the rabbis arrived early to invite all 2,300 delegates to visit their Museum of Tolerance. (A polite way, Cooper said, of saying, "Tolerance is not a dirty word.")

In Chicago, they're trying to drum up support to persuade Secretary of Defense William J. Perry to specifically prohibit members of the U.S. military from belonging to hate groups.

"It's not just, 'How's the weather back home?' " Cooper said of his interactions with the political elite.

Just then, Hier's beeper signaled that they were late for a reception honoring Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd. The rabbis hit the road.

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