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'Big Kahuna' Bob Hertzberg Making the Most of His Time to Shine

With the Senate leader skipping the convention, the Assembly speaker is in the enviable position of being the top state Democrat in town.


Wearing a dark business suit and a lei, California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg was at his corny best as he hopped on a surfboard parked in front of a huge poster of a fake blue wave.

"Gonzo!" shouted Hertzberg, his knees bent and his arms out in classic surfer stance as he posed with a giddy constituent for a Polaroid shot.

The silly moment was repeated hundreds of times with guests at Hertzberg's California Beach Party in a Bonaventure Hotel ballroom late Tuesday night.

"He's hilarious and he's so cute," cooed Christine Elliot, the 21-year-old president of California College Democrats, as she waited for her turn on the board with the Assembly's big kahuna. "You see the Hertzberg name and you know it's going to be a cool party."

These are the moments politicians savor, and the Sherman Oaks lawmaker has had quite a few of them this week. A decision by his upper-house counterpart, state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton of San Francisco, to forgo the convention has left Hertzberg in the enviable role of the state's top Democratic legislator in Los Angeles.

"Being the leader of the state Legislature at the time of the national convention is a golden opportunity for the speaker to showcase his own talents, his colleagues' and the state," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said after stepping off the surfboard. "Bob is definitely up to the task."

Hertzberg, introduced repeatedly this week by state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres as "Huggy Bear" because of his apparently uncontrollable urge to embrace everyone in sight, has seized the opportunity by packing his schedule with speaking engagements, fund-raisers and parties.

One night he's hobnobbing with Mayor Richard Riordan and Gov. Gray Davis, the next he is at Burbank Airport at 1 a.m. with a few of his fellow Assembly members to greet Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. The following evening he's hosting his kitschy beach party, complete with favors emblazoned with his name.

On Wednesday, however, Hertzberg showed his serious side and got down to business, addressing the convention to tout Vice President Al Gore's health care agenda. He told the audience of Gore's plans to ensure that all California children receive health care, that medical decisions will be made by doctors and not insurance bureaucrats and that mental illnesses will be covered the same as other illnesses.

"For the first time in history, people with mental diseases will no longer have suffer in silence," he said. "When it comes to improving the health of all Americans, Al Gore is just what the doctor ordered."

Hertzberg's wife, Cynthia Ann Telles, the daughter of a pioneering Texas Latino politician, also addressed the crowd--first in English and then in Spanish. Telles, a physician and teacher, told of how her father, Raymond Telles, was the first Latino mayor of a major U.S. city, El Paso. She also told how he became the first Latino in U.S. history to be named an ambassador. The appointment to Costa Rica was by his close friend, President Kennedy.

The speech ended on a jubilant note as the couple clasped hands and chanted to applause: "Viva Gore! Viva Gore-Lieberman!"

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