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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION | FLOOR
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It Takes an Irishman to Say Viva la Vida Loca

August 18, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS and FAYE FIORE

Months ago, it was George W. who couldn't name several foreign leaders.

This week, it was California's Democratic delegates who fell sadly short on their knowledge of mariachi. Even worse, they were exposed by an Irish American from Massachusetts--an hombre named Kennedy.

Caramba!

In fact, as Kennedy and other delegates today bid Los Angeles adios, a few of California's own will say, sincerely but monolingually . . . buh-bye.

At a delegation meeting Thursday morning, fatigued conventioneers were barely roused by the boisterous sounds of a mariachi band. But Kennedy was so energized by the Mexican rhythm that he took the stage and belted out the famous mariachi lyric, "Ay! Jalisco no te rajes!" (That's "Oh, Jalisco don't back down." It loses something in the translation.)

Come on, Kennedy urged California Democratic chairman Art Torres. Join in! We'll sing this together!

Torres, wise pol that he is, declined. But he later estimated--generously--that 10% of his fellow delegates know the words, just like Ted. And so, of course, does he--but he claimed that he limits his singing to the shower.

Others in the crowd were more candid about the mariachi gap. State Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo) said he didn't realize that the song--a tune familiar to anyone who has ever been besieged by musicians in a Mexican restaurant--actually has words. And San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown unexpectedly played the raza card.

"Listen, we African Americans have unique talents," he said. "I'm a dancer."

New T-Shirt: It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity

After four days of heat, protests and L.A., patience has frayed.

At an exit from the convention area, protesters and street vendors screamed at delegates with equal vigor: Hey, how much did your vote cost? Hey, T-shirt, T-shirt! Hey, corporate greed! Hey, water, juice, soda!

At the corner, it was clear that one woman had just about had enough.

"OK!" she announced. "I've bought my Nation of Islam newspaper! I've got my T-shirt! I'm sorry about the dead children in Iraq! And I'm about to buy a hot dog! Now, is everybody happy?"

There's No Debate About It: Danville, Ky., Is Stoked

They're calling it "the thrill from the 'Ville."

That might be an extravagant promise for a vice presidential debate, but the folks from Danville, Ky., are so excited about the Oct. 5 showdown that they're promoting it from a table in the lobby of the Wilshire Grand.

"We beat out UCLA and USC!" boasted Clarence R. Wyatt, a professor at Danville's Centre College. After a campaign that included pleading letters from local schoolchildren, Centre bested more than 400 contenders reviewed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

"We played up the rural America angle," Wyatt said, adding that Kentucky has plenty of clean air, a fine educational system and a high-tech corridor called . . . yes, "Silicon Holler."

The last time Danville drew national attention?

"That would be Oct. 19, 1921," said Wyatt, ever the historian. That's when Centre's football team beat Harvard 6-0 for a national championship.

Imagine Having to Impersonate These Guys

Now that the convention is over, Al and George are polishing their stump speeches, rehearsing their applause lines, practicing presidential poses and desperately calling their agent.

"Al" is a Sacramento software engineer named Brent Welch. "George" is a Missouri construction company owner named Brent Mendenhall. For around $2,500, the convention's only unofficial presidential candidate impersonators will appear at your company picnic, sales meeting, or any other function that needs a shot in the arm.

Of course, the need should be extreme.

"It's a tough job being Gore," admits Welch, who declined to give his party affiliation. "You have to wake up each morning and take four or five Valium."

*

Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this story.

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