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Obama talks politics, basketball at Beverly Hills fundraiser

Demonstrators outside the Beverly Hilton urge the president to stand up for gay rights. Obama says he intends to keep his campaign promises.

May 29, 2009|TINA DAUNT

President Barack Obama may have come to town Wednesday night in his capacity as the Democratic Party's first fundraiser, but the chief executive wasn't about to let that obligation stand in the way of what may be his favorite role: basketball's fan-in-chief.

After telling the highest rollers in a very high-rolling Hollywood crowd -- those who paid the legal limit of $30,400 a couple to have their pictures taken and dine with the president -- that he remains a staunch Bulls fan (talk about your profiles in courage), Obama delivered a series of quips about making sure people would be able to get away in time to see at least some of the Lakers-Nuggets playoff game that had begun a few minutes before.

The president then moved through his own version of the triangle offense -- who needs Phil Jackson and all that Zen? -- using the Beverly Hilton's internal corridors to slip between the event's three ballrooms, moving from one to the next with supporters in tow. A few celebs (like Antonio Banderas and wife, Melanie Griffith) braved a walk through the lobby on their own, where hotel guests from Oklahoma and India snapped pictures of them. (Maybe a few hundred trips up and back on the red carpet ought to be part of every president's training too.)

Meanwhile, Obama wasn't kidding about getting away early to catch at least some of the game. While many of the stars, directors, producers and high-powered entertainment executives who'd just dropped somewhere between $3 million and $4 million onto the Dems' collection plate milled about the ballrooms, the president slipped quietly upstairs to the suite where he spent the night -- and, not incidentally, caught the game's fourth quarter. (At least he didn't have to wonder why Jack Nicholson hadn't shown up.)

Those who stayed behind after the event's concert ended back downstairs got an added bonus when comedian Jamie Foxx held court in a corner of the ballroom. The dozen or so people who crowded around laughed as he did his striking Obama impersonation. Foxx even recalled the time Obama said to him: "So you think you've got me?"

Foxx quipped in reply: "It's all in the way you say 'and' and 'look' and 'I didn't say that, John [McCain].' "

Listeners included Democratic fundraiser John Emerson and his wife, Kimberly, and daughter Jackie. Young power broker Alex Avant, who was chatting up the requisite gorgeous woman, stood nearby. At one point, Foxx stopped his monologue to compliment Avant's companion on her beauty, then picked up where he left off. "We're living in a time like no other. It's our time," Foxx said proudly of Obama, who by then was applauding the Lakers' game-breaking 11-point run on the team's way to victory.


Prop. 8 makes

an appearance

Meanwhile, on his way into the gala, Obama got a good look at the issue that's likely to preoccupy many of his Hollywood supporters over the next year or so: gay marriage. The industry has a guilty conscience when it comes to Prop. 8, the measure banning same-sex marriage, which the California Supreme Court upheld Tuesday.

Many in Hollywood feel that some stars and fundraisers simply avoided the original initiative campaign, while even many gay activists were distracted by the presidential campaign and put too much faith in the early polls showing that Prop. 8 wouldn't pass.

Not this time. Hollywood already is gearing up to support still another initiative campaign to make marriage equality an explicit part of the state constitution. Wednesday, activists such as Rick Jacobs pursued what they called "an inside-outside" strategy aimed at capitalizing on Obama's appearance. Across Wilshire from the Hilton, demonstrators (many of them, presumably, supporters of the president) chanted and displayed banners demanding not only equal rights to marry, but also an end to the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy, which Obama promised to end during the campaign. (Jacobs, who had a ticket to the Hilton fundraiser, opted to spend the evening rallying the protesters.)

Though Obama didn't speak directly to the demonstrators' agenda, he did say that he'd heard their chants as his motorcade drove onto the hotel grounds.

"One of them said, 'Obama, keep your promise,' and I thought, 'That's fair,' " the president said, adding in an attempt to keep things light, "I don't know which promise he was talking about." When the small ripple of laughter died away, the president said his administration intends to keep all his campaign promises.

Back across Wilshire, about 200 members of groups such as Jacobs' Courage Campaign and the Stonewall Democratic Club continued to chant slogans including "Equal Rights Now!" as passing cars honked their horns.

Meanwhile, inside, Democratic strategist Chad Griffin and "Milk" producer Bruce Cohen spoke briefly with Obama during the fundraiser dinner, specifically urging him to support marriage equality.

"This is a president who, even prior to being president, has a very solid record of standing up for the rights of all Americans," Griffin said. "Now that he's president, it's our job to push this agenda forward and help make it a priority in the administration."


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