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CAUSE CELEBRE

Stars shine on Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown

October 10, 2009|TINA DAUNT

Jerry Brown may be leading Gavin Newsom by 20 points in the latest statewide poll of California Democrats, but in Hollywood the race for the party's gubernatorial nomination is shaping up as an exciting battle, one that may split the creative community and its deep pockets along generational lines.

And for once, nobody can say that the industry is out of step with the mainstream, because the same Field Poll that showed Brown so far out in front this week also found that a majority of younger Democrats support Newsom.

The San Francisco mayor's youth appeal was on display in Los Angeles on Monday, when nearly 300 mostly young Hollywood movers and shakers paid as much as $5,000 a head to hear former President Bill Clinton address a Newsom fundraiser at the Biltmore Hotel. (If you want to get an idea of the former chief executive's drawing power in this town, just think about what it would take to motivate a group of top-flight agents and studio execs to drive downtown during rush hour on a weeknight. Now that's box office.)

Clinton spoke to a very enthusiastic crowd for about 20 minutes, then spent another half hour or so working a room that included former NBC exec Ben Silverman, former Clinton White House aide Michael Kives (now of CAA), attorney Wylie Aitken, actress-activist Heather Thomas and entertainment lawyer Craig Jacobson. Kives' support is especially significant because he was a leader among the young Hollywood types who in the last general election banded together as "Friends of Chelsea" (Clinton) to raise money and campaign for her mother, now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That the onetime first daughter commands her own loyal posse of compatriots isn't surprising, as -- in political circles, at least -- only the Kennedys' network is better than the Clintons'.

"Young Hollywood politicos who supported Hillary are definitely drawn to Gavin," said political consultant Kristina Schake. "The Clinton vortex is still forceful in this city."

Kives said he's supporting Newsom because he "is an inspirational leader, and a politician not afraid to take the hard position when he knows what is right. That's rare to find, and something the state really needs."

Unlike the Kennedys, however, the Clintons seldom let go of a grudge, and the former president is said to recall the sharp rhetorical elbows Brown threw his way when they competed for the Democratic nomination for the White House all those years ago. Thus, Clinton's endorsement of Newsom makes the San Francisco mayor the beneficiary of a Hollywood political network that now dates back two generations: The friends of Bill begat friends of Hillary who begat friends of Chelsea, all of whom still find the ex-leader of the free world a compelling figure.

It's a group tailor-made for the handsome, 42-year-old Newsom, who is so relentlessly hip that he's not only been to rehab (alcohol, not drugs), but also tweeted the recent birth of his first child. (Now that's full disclosure.) He's also closely identified with the civil rights issue that now preoccupies much of young Hollywood -- gay marriage. One of his supporters, producer Bruce Cohen, who did the Oscar-winning "Milk," recalled for a reporter this week that when he was filming the assassinated gay politician's biography, Newsom "let us use City Hall. He offered to let us shoot in his office. It was a great experience, and, through that, I got to know him, and it increased my admiration for him."

That admiration, which translates into support, is shared by uber-agent Ari Emanuel, who runs the newly merged William Morris Endeavor agency and is the brother of President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, as well as ICM president Chris Silbermann, and CAA partner Kevin Huvane. (With that kind of agency backing, if Newsom doesn't get the nomination, at least he should be able to get a part.)

But while this was Newsom's week, Brown has his own moment coming up Nov. 18 at a fundraiser hosted by DreamWorks founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen -- Hollywood's political old guard. It was a Spielberg-Katzenberg-Geffen dinner for candidate Obama that validated the future president's candidacy in an entertainment community that most analysts just assumed would support Hillary Clinton. But where the DreamWorks triumvirate leads, a lot of the industry is eager to follow.

There's more than short-term memory at work for Brown. Since leaving the governor's office in 1983 he's wandered in the political wilderness as an unsuccessful presidential and senatorial candidate, then rediscovered his political self as a reforming mayor of Oakland and as a pro-consumer state attorney general.

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