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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION | NOTES

Rooms: $260, Phones Extra; A Walk on the Wild Side

August 17, 2000|Faye Fiore and Steve Chawkins

We're more than halfway through the Democratic joy fest and, alas, not all of our guests have experienced Los Angeles as the Shangri-La the rest of us know it to be.

The entire Vermont delegation says it's ready to go home; they miss their trees. Other visitors unskilled in the art of getting around L.A. without a car noted they hadn't had a decent meal all week.

But the mantle for most abused VIP goes to Washington-based pollster Mark Mellman, who came into town as one of the Democratic Party's premier strategists and wound up dumped on the Harbor Freeway and nearly arrested.

The odyssey began when Mellman checked into the Luxe Hotel in Beverly Hills, a self-proclaimed "jewel of Rodeo Drive," whose multimillion-dollar renovation wasn't quite finished when the convention gavel fell.

So, for $260 a night, Mellman--who helped get Barbara Boxer elected--got no elevators, no phone, no shower curtain and almost no furniture. He finally secured a bed and a desk.

"But I had to ask for a chair," he said. When he asked to use the fax machine, they sent him to Kinko's. (Calls to the hotel seeking comment were not answered.)

The discomforts of his accommodations paled compared with the cab ride to Staples Center. The driver, finding most of the downtown exits closed, stopped at the Harbor Freeway's 9th Street offramp and told Mellman to get out.

Now, any Angeleno would sooner leap from City Hall than stand carless on a freeway. But Mellman is from Washington, so he obediently got out and started walking, only to be swarmed by L.A.'s finest, who made the natural assumption that anyone walking on a freeway must be either crazy or dangerous.

"What are you doing?" Mellman squawked as the officer began to search him in places few men care to be searched.

"I'm not putting you in my car unless I search you," the officer barked.

"But I don't want to go in your car," Mellman exclaimed. "Can't I just walk and you drive slow alongside me?"

Rejecting that option, the officer drove Mellman even further away and dumped him for the second time that day.

He walked back.

No Gaiety Over Pledge; Full-Frontal Tipper

In Philadelphia, we learned, a crowd once booed Santa Claus. But members of the usually mellow California delegation trumped Philly on Tuesday night when they booed the Boy Scouts leading conventioneers in the pledge of allegiance. The Scouts don't allow openly gay leaders, and their presence onstage did not sit well with some of the 434 Californians, 34 of whom are openly gay.

"It's such an affront," Assemblywoman Carole Migden of San Francisco complained after the Scouts disbanded their Norman Rockwell montage. "We're going to pursue who made this decision and why and make sure it doesn't happen again."

But this is L.A., after all, so no one was heard to protest an oil painting showing a full-frontal self-portrait of a nude and pregnant Tipper Gore that popped up in a Spike Jonze video shown in the hall Wednesday and carried on C-SPAN.

When the Shhhh Hits the Fans

The challenge of speaking to conventioneers is not a great speech or a breathless delivery--it's getting the delegates to stop talking long enough to listen to the speeches.

California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres has cultivated the technique of breaking up his sentences with shhhhh. Example: "We're very fortunate to have . . . shhhhh . . . a young senator . . . shhhhh . . ."

It was sort of effective at Wednesday morning's California delegation breakfast. But not as attention-getting as Tipper in the raw.

To the Germans, That's Entertainment

A view from the foreign press tent:

"Europeans love to think of the Americans as crazy people. They love to see conventions as Hollywood shows without any meaning," explained Peter Tautfest, a correspondent for the German paper Taz.

And the sight of police in riot gear converging on a motley array of protesters in a melee of rocks, rubber bullets and horses has gone a long way toward cementing the stereotype.

But there have been moments that stirred feelings of political envy abroad, according to Tautfest--namely the pick of an Orthodox Jew for a national ticket. His liberal-leaning German audience is particularly fond of vice presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman.

"It is seen as an expression of diversity," Tautfest said. "They didn't pick a woman or a black man, but they picked a Jew. Look at the Americans. They can do that."

Aren't the Democrats supposed to be the party of working families? So how come a Hillary Rodham Clinton baseball cap goes for $20 and a short-sleeve Gore-Lieberman polo shirt is a whopping $50? Even the ballpoint pens were 5 bucks. In Philadelphia, you could get a flag-print Cat in the Hat-style topper for $20, which required considerably more fabric.

*

Times staff writers Megan Garvey, Richard Simon, Dan Morain and Massie Ritsch contributed to this story.

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