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FRIDAY SPECIAL | Political Briefing

Bono Is Recalled as a Serious Pol Who Could Laugh at Himself

January 09, 1998|HUGO MARTIN and JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Since the death of Republican Congressman Sonny Bono, dozens of Washington lawmakers have come forward with memories that for them epitomized the entertainer turned politician.

Congressman James Rogan (R-Glendale), a friend of Bono, remembers him as a "serious lawmaker who refused to take himself seriously."

The day after Bono's death, Rogan recalled a speech the Palm Springs representative made during last year's speakership crisis, when a late-night meeting of GOP members turned into an intraparty feud, complete with flaring tempers and pointing fingers.

In the speech to his fellow Republicans, Bono recalled the lowest point in his life. He had lost his hit show, was divorced from Cher and separated from his daughter. He then appeared occasionally on the TV series "Fantasy Island," which he called the "elephant graveyard for ex-celebrities."

Said Bono: "One day I was sitting in my trailer waiting for the next scene. I felt as low as I'd ever felt in my life, thinking about all I once had, and all I had lost.

"Suddenly, I was called to come out and shoot my last scene. The script called for me to walk up to Herve Villechaize, the diminutive actor who played 'Tattoo' on the show. I was supposed to walk to him, pat him on the shoulder and say, 'Isn't it a beautiful day, Tattoo?' "

"Instead, I made a mistake in my lines. I walked up, patted him on the shoulder and said, 'Isn't it a beautiful day, Harpoon?'

"I had called him the wrong name. The director yelled, 'Cut!' Herve was cursing at me. I thought to myself, 'I lost my fame. I've lost my wife. I've lost my child. I've lost it all, and now I have to stand here and be sworn at by a damned midget!"

Bono was the second-biggest fund-raiser among House Republicans, next to Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Who's the Boss?

Chicago is in the midst of a debate over whether the city's 50 aldermen should become full-time legislators like the 15 City Council members in Los Angeles.

The key distinction between the two cities is that aldermen in Chicago have very little authority in running city government. The true power lies with the mayor's office, currently occupied by Richard Daley.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, said the true power in Los Angeles lies with the council.

"We're not only the legislative body of the city of Los Angeles," he said. "We're also the management group. We are responsible for managing the city on a day-to-day basis. We actually are responsible for running the city."

By Any Other Name

To the battle for Valley secession add the battle over secession lexicon. Secession supporter Richard Close says advocates are trying to eliminate the word "secession" from discussions. Instead, he's hoping the term for efforts by some Valley residents to form a city separate from Los Angeles will be replaced by "Valley independence."

" 'Independence' is our new word for secession," said Close. " 'Secession' has, well, negative connotations. People think about civil wars, guns on the street, that kind of thing."

By contrast, he says "independence" is more palatable, with its glorious overtones of our Revolutionary War. Moreover, he adds, perhaps "independence" is a word more often awarded to winners, while "secessionists" tend to be losers.

Artful Investing

The long-running joke about California is that its only culture is in yogurt shops.

State Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) wants to put an end to such knocks with a bill that would more than double the amount the state spends on the arts, from $12.7 million per year to $35 million.

The bill calls for investing $1 per person to close the gap with spending in other states.

Schiff points out that New York recently increased its Arts Council budget to more than $40 million. Even Michigan, with a much smaller population, is spending $35 million this year, he said.

He added that no European nation spends less than $5 per person per year on the arts.

Schiff and others say such a commitment can pay off by attracting tourism, educating children, enhancing community development and promoting creative thinking.

"We must begin to think of the arts and artistic excellence as part of our economic plan," he said.

Getting Online

For Assemblyman Robert M. Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), it's not enough to simply represent his constituents. He wants to usher them into the Information Age as well.

On Jan. 24, Hertzberg is sponsoring the first of a series of free Internet classes at Valley College, aiming to instruct the public in accessing government documents on their PCs.

"It's to bring government to the people," said Hertzberg aide Miriam Jaffe.

Burnishing Hertzberg's reputation for being techno-savvy may be a goal, too. Whether such things matter to voters remains to be seen, but Jaffe's got it covered just in case. Hertzberg is the most high-tech of the members of the Assembly, she boasted.

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