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L.A. Going Hollywood in the Battle for Democratic Convention

Tourism: City is vying with six others. It plans to woo the selection committee with celebrity impersonators and movie-themed dining on a sound stage.


WASHINGTON — Imagine an eligible bride with a $150-million dowry and seven eager suitors and you may get the picture.

The bride in this case is the Democratic Party, looking for a place to hold its 2000 convention. The dowry is the mega-bucks and free publicity that come from hosting the political equivalent of the Olympics. And the suitors are seven hungry cities--Los Angeles at the head of the pack--stumbling over themselves in a contest that has taken municipal kissing up to new heights.

"I have enough T-shirts to last the rest of my life," confided Roz Wyman, one of the 49 members of the Democratic National Committee's site selection team who are being shamelessly courted with free air fares and hotel rooms, great baseball seats, personal visits from legendary athletes, food cooked by Wolfgang Puck, sunglasses, fans, walking shoes from Rockport, studio tours and various hats, to name not nearly all of it.

Each of the cities--the six others are Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Miami, Minneapolis and Denver--must prove they can put on a really big show, seeing as this is the political extravaganza that party leaders hope will juice up apathetic voters in the next presidential election.

Cleverness, local color and an appreciation of history are encouraged. Which may explain why Boston delivered its bid applications in several lobster pots. Denver sent autographed Super Bowl footballs and teeny little pine trees. There were Getty Museum coffee table books from Los Angeles, Tasty Kakes from Philadelphia and a guided tour of the Minneapolis corner where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat up in the air.

The selection committee expects to make a recommendation by the end of the year after visiting each city for three days. Los Angeles' turn is July 27-29, and if the members want glitz, they are about to get an eyeful.

They will be chauffeured to Olvera Street for mariachis and margaritas, fed lunch from food bars themed to various movies on a Universal Studios sound stage, photographed by fake paparazzi while mingling with assorted movie star look-alikes and ultimately dropped at the L.A. Convention Center. There, the city's bid will be presented on CD-ROMs delivered, local officials promise, in an unforgettable manner that is strictly top secret (let's just say it will involve gift-bearing angels, which the Democratic Party has lately been sorely in need of.)

"If the members went that crazy over the Mary Tyler Moore corner, one can only imagine," one L.A. booster mused.

Major cities have entire staffs devoted to figuring out how to draw big, moneymaking conventions to town. And 22,000 braying, flag waving, donkey-hat wearing Democrats--joined by members of every major news media outlet in the country--is something approaching Nirvana.

"It is the crown jewel of conventions," agreed George Kirkland, president of the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, which, in conjunction with Mayor Richard Riordan, is pitching the city's heart out. "The objective is for other groups to say, 'Boy, if L.A. could host that, maybe we should take a look.' "

The courting has been going on since the Democratic National Committee held its quarterly meeting in Washington last April. At that gathering, it was clear Los Angeles would be tough competition the moment its boosters turned the federal city's historic Union Station into a sort of Hollywood premiere, where committee members popped sushi while a mime dressed in gold tights pranced around looking like an Oscar.

It was tres elegant, down to the chocolate martinis. Philadelphia's party was the same night.

"They had some kind of cheese steak thing going on in the downtown Hyatt," sniffed one attendee, clearly pulling for L.A.

But this contest is about more than an adequate supply of hotel rooms and technological glitz. The chosen city must reflect Democratic Party principles--at the top of the list: loyalty to labor unions. That explains why the site committee's three-day visit earlier this month to Philadelphia was aborted when a nasty transit strike broke out; the panel members, who would sooner cross hot coals than a picket line, promptly went home.

But this is politics, which rarely makes any sense, so points can also be lost if a city is too Democratic. The party doesn't want to spend this much money preaching to the choir, and would like to reach a few prospective converts in the process.

That phenomenon initially put Boston in the longshot category (Massachusetts was the only state that went for George McGovern, and you don't get much more rock solid than that).

But lo and behold, Old Beantown made a surprisingly strong showing during its three-day audition, overcoming what its very own leaders acknowledge is a "traditionally bad attitude." (Few others know it, but Bostonians are not joking when they refer to themselves as "The Hub," as in Hub of the Universe, and therefore consider self-promotion not only unnecessary but undignified.)

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