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Business Booming for Ben

August 03, 2000|Steve Chawkins and Faye Fiore

Ah, the City of Brotherly Love. Right now, it's the only place in the world where journalists--all 15,000 of us--are welcomed like family, or at least like bratty cousins seen every four years. For once, everyone wants us around; we're welcomed not just by mercilessly upbeat Republicans but by business schmoozers of every stripe--for if a political convention is about anything, it's about business.

"Great to see ya," says a dark-suited man, guiding a reporter into a lavish reception.

"Try the food. We got the caterer up from D.C.--she's a single mom, and uh, a woman. Great story!"

Why not use the local talent, he's asked.

"Oh. You see, I'm representing the caterer. . . . Want a crab cake? An interview?"

So how's business?

Great! Fantastic! Could be even better, with more common sense and less government! Hence, the scads of convention events--luncheons, gab-fests, cocktails, golf outings and miscellaneous festivities like a thing called "IRA-Palooza."

With the House approving higher IRA limits last month, the giants of the industry--Fidelity, Prudential, Schwab and others--used IRA-Palooza to thank the reps behind the move, including Reps. Bill Archer (R-Texas) and Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) "We just wanted to blow them a kiss," said a spokeswoman for the companies.

Thrift never had it so good. Under a canopy in elegant Rittenhouse Square, the kiss-a-palooza was delivered with cocktails, a swing band and speeches aimed at teaching the Senate, too, the virtues of prudent saving. Lobbyists, reporters and top-shelf investors co-mingled their fun over seafood fritters.

Ben Franklin--this guy seems to make it to every event in Philadelphia, from hoagie-shop openings to state funerals--was sweating under his wig and belting out his customary maxims.

"Early to bed, early to . . . ," So how's business, Ben?

"Unbelievable!" enthused Franklin, a.k.a. Michael Levick. Seems every Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross in town is working overtime; desperate party planners are trucking Levick and other Revolutionary War-figure-impersonators in from Washington, at a cost of as much as $800 a day.

Ben just had to underscore the point.

"You know, a penny saved is . . . "

We know, we know!


Hotel Waiters Come to the Rescue of Parched Mounted Police

At a downtown intersection, the scene was tense. Dozens of police officers on horseback and on foot were soaked through with sweat and grimly alert after an afternoon of confrontations with protesters. Helicopters churned overhead and delegates outside the luxury hotels across Ben Franklin Boulevard looked on with concern.

Suddenly, white-jacketed waiters holding aloft trays of ice water crossed over from the Four Seasons Hotel, giving each officer a cup of relief.

"It's something they didn't have to do, and I really appreciate it," said Cpl. Steve Hatch. "Sometimes you just can't get to the store."


The Door Is Always Open at Made-for-Movies Oval Office

Like all conventions, the GOP's is chockablock with patriotic schlock--uh, souvenirs. You want a crystal elephant? No problem. An American-flag warmup jacket; red, white and blue beads that flash like Christmas lights; a four-color portrait of Richard Nixon; a "Friends don't let friends vote democrat" bumper sticker; a $249 massage gizmo that could make a compassionate conservative of Karl Marx?

Can do, folks: It's all for sale at a downtown exposition called Politicalfest, where delegates and others contribute their share of the $100 million gleefully forecast by convention organizers for the City of Brotherly Love-That-Scarf-With-Portraits- of-All-the-Presidents-On-It.

But the best sales pitch at Politicalfest is the one about democracy: You want proof that any American--rich or poor, black or white, ethically confused or downright corrupt--can enter the Oval Office? OK, we're going to put you in an Oval Office you're comfortable with--today!

The mock-up of the Oval Office at Politicalfest comes courtesy of Universal Studios, which used it in the movie "Dave." Chief executive wannabes line up for a chance to fill the big leather chair, yell into the phone and browse through a worn inspirational volume: "How to Live With an Imperfect Person."

On a recent afternoon, a grim-faced little boy plunked himself down in the Oval Office and savagely clamped a quill pen between his teeth. An attractive young woman lay across the presidential desk, posing for photos in shorts and halter top. Pondering weighty affairs of state, Tom Lyon, a Philadelphia family physician, sank into the chief executive chair, rubbed his brow, picked up the phone, and cried: "Whoa! Gotta go now! It's Hillary!"


Delegates Perchance Will See a Maven of Cowboy Poetry

Roaming through the convention, a denim-clad cowpoke in a battered Stetson hands out his business cards.

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