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DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION '96 | FROM THE FLOOR

The Stars Are on Display at Museum Bash

August 29, 1996|BILL BOYARSKY and AMY WALLACE

We finagled our way into John F. Kennedy Jr.'s party for George magazine--an event we had enjoyed trashing two weeks before when the glossy monthly threw a similar bash at the Republican convention.

Grabbing a Campari and vodka off a silver tray, we strolled through Chicago's Art Institute--past the 17th century firearms and the entire Buddha wing--before arriving in the courtyard where one of the young princes of the Democratic Party was holding court.

The athletic-looking Kennedy pushed his way through the museum's darkened garden, shaking hands and working a crowd far different--and much larger--than the one he'd drawn in California.

In San Diego, the George party had lured mostly a Northeastern media crowd--Norman Mailer was the biggest name guest. But here in Chicago, Mailer was eclipsed by a roster of Clinton administration heavies, powerful Washington lobbyists and lawyers--and, oh yeah, movie stars!

The presence of such a varied bunch of swells told us a lot about the Democratic Party. It showed that the Kennedy family--merely famous in the larger world--is still royalty here. It revealed that despite the populist rhetoric inside the convention hall, money and clout still rule. And it proved, once again, that time stops when Kevin Costner enters a room.

*

Everywhere we went, we tripped over a Kennedy--but of course, that was no surprise. What we didn't expect was to shake hands with Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman or Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich or behind-the-scenes power broker Nathan Landow, a Maryland developer and fund-raiser. And there were pols, from U.S. senators down to Chicago aldermen.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton herself arrived in a motorcade, but drove on after her security staff got spooked by the huge throng.

We wanted to talk to these people about substantive national issues--welfare reform, maybe, or illegal immigration. But it was so hot in the garden, and so loud, what with the live rock music blaring in our ears. So we focused instead on a question that has dominated this week's convention chatter: Can you do the Macarena?

*

We asked our host about the dance craze, which has swept across the convention floor this week.

"I don't even know what it is," John-John said. "I'll find out one way or another."

We asked his Uncle Ted. "I'm trying to learn it from Vicki," the Massachusetts senator said, referring to his wife, who confided that they were working on it together. "It's a family thing," she said.

Kennedy cousin Maria Shriver, the television news personality, said she hadn't had time to learn the Macarena--"I was too busy working." But Oprah Winfrey, who was on Shriver's arm, chimed in that Maria shouldn't worry.

"The Macarena is over," a svelte-looking Winfrey said emphatically. "If they're doing it at the convention, it's over."

*

The buzz is that Costner, currently starring in the film "Tin Cup," is as much a political symbol as he is a Hollywood star. He's someone who has long been associated with Republican causes but who also likes Clinton. More than that, though, he's a boyishly handsome version of Everyman, or at least what every man wishes to be. The theory is: Get the Costner wannabes, win the election.

We spotted the actor in a doorway as we were pushing to get out and he--looking casual in a white T-shirt and dark vest--was forcing his way in. We asked him if it was fair to call him a pro-Clinton Republican.

"I'm pro-Clinton," he said, evasively. But are you a Republican, we repeated? "I'm not sure," he said.

*

Not everybody was so famous. We ran into some crashers from back home: Nigel Shanley, the self-described "director of public awareness" at Los Angeles' House of Blues, and five of his friends. We wondered how they got tickets.

"I told them I belonged," said Shanley, who wore a black Mao Tse-tung jacket and spoke in a polished South African accent. "They believed me."

*

Judging from our brief encounter with one of the youngest Gores, she's got enough political savvy to follow in the footsteps of her father--who everyone knows--and her grandfather, who was a senator from Tennessee.

A poised, fresh-faced Karenna Gore greeted us politely, even though our opening gambit was a little clumsy ("Are you a Gore?"). Yes, she replied, spelling her first name and giving her age (23) without us even asking. When we spotted her younger brother, Albert, nearby, she cautioned: "I'm the only one of us who will talk to you."

We wished her a good time. She thanked us, adding, "It's nice to meet you." She even sounded like she meant it.

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