Patriotic Gore in L.A.: Good Old Democrats Can’t Stop Fighting

LOS ANGELES–As Bill Clinton raised his hands in triumph one more time, bidding his party goodbye and passing the torch to Al Gore, Democrats gathered in the Staples Center on August 14 bathed in the warm springs of unity.

Once outside, however, it was back to business.

The morning after the President’s speech, Andrew Cuomo was standing near the door of the Los Angeles ballroom in the Century Plaza Hotel, sending off glints of fame. The light of a television camera, like a bug zapper in a mosquito-infested yard, lured reporters one after another.

Mr. Cuomo hovered by the door, but then leaned over to Charles King, a former adviser to Mr. Cuomo’s father, Mario, and asked him to help him work the room. But then Mr. Cuomo changed his mind. He lingered by the door, shaking hands, answering reporters’ questions.

“We’ll have our Mayoral race, we’ll have our gubernatorial race,” he said in those cadences that eerily resemble his father’s. “But not this year. Not now. Elect Al Gore, elect Hillary Clinton, keep your eye on the ball, keep focused, don’t get distracted, don’t get divisive. The Democratic Party is united in New York. It doesn’t happen often. And by the way, that is also the best way to get a Democratic Mayor and to get a Democratic Governor. And then we have a heck of a case to make against the Republicans.”

Mr. Cuomo clearly wants to make that case. As he addressed sleepy-eyed New York delegates chewing on breakfast burritos, Mr. Cuomo warned of the terrors that may await New York under Republican rule. “Make no mistake, all the lessons we learned in Washington, the Republicans in New York are doing the exact opposite,” he said. “President Clinton lowered the debt, raised jobs! New York Republicans raised the debt, lowered jobs! We have to take a page out of his playbook and bring it to New York!”

The delegates smiled, nodded and raised knowing eyebrows.

Everyone’s with the charming son of the former Governor–until you raise the name of state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.

Mr. McCall is the other Democrat who wants to be elected Governor in 2002. The backroom race between the two men broke onto the front pages at the state Democratic convention in May. And since then, everything has gone in Mr. McCall’s direction.

“Is anyone supporting Andrew?” mused Manhattan State Senator Eric Schneiderman. “No one in the state that I can find.”

One prominent feminist leader said that the junior Mr. Cuomo “doesn’t understand the extreme vitriol” his father still inspires, at least among some Democrats. And, she added of Andrew Cuomo, “he’s arrogant.”

To be sure, there is a circle of Cuomo family loyalists who would die to elect Andrew Cuomo Governor. But in an unscientific survey of dozens of delegates, nearly everybody said they were for Mr. McCall, the first (and still only) African-American to be elected to statewide office in New York.

“I don’t want to go so far as to say a run against Mr. McCall would be harmful,” said Bill Lynch, the “rumpled genius” who shepherded former Mayor David Dinkins to victory in 1989. “He has the right to run for Governor, but I don’t think it is a smart thing to go against Carl McCall.”

A day earlier, Mr. McCall had addressed the morning meeting of the New York delegation. Mr. Cuomo is a Cuomo, yes, but Mr. McCall is a preacher. And he knows how to get the congregation going.

“This convention is filled with delegates who are here to speak their minds, delegates who are diverse in their backgrounds and their opinions,” Mr. McCall roared. “This is different from the Republican deception of a few weeks ago! You remember what happened then! It was a brilliant plan in theory. They attempted to create the appearance of a multicultural love-fest for the cameras. But when the cameras left the podium, it looked like a croquet tournament in Kennebunkport!”

The support for Mr. McCall goes beyond residual anti-Cuomo sentiments. There’s also, as is usually the case in politics, a very practical side to it: If Mr. Cuomo were to win a primary against Mr. McCall, embittered African-Americans might not turn out in a general election and could cost Democrats the election.

“Andrew Cuomo is a very talented man. He has been a Cabinet secretary,” said attorney Victor Kovner, a powerful friend of Bill Clinton. “He has every right to run. But I have a candidate. McCall is my candidate.”

“Look at [state Attorney General] Eliot Spitzer,” said one prominent Democratic office holder who asked not to be identified. “Look how ambitious he is. He obviously wants to be Governor. But even he sees you can’t go up against Mr. McCall.”

“Spitzer is playing it exactly right,” said another. “He’s wrapping himself around Carl. Then if Carl doesn’t run, he can step in. I don’t see what Andrew gets from this.”

Mr. Cuomo professed confusion when the argument about not running against the state’s most prominent black leader was presented to him. “I don’t believe in racial politics and dividing,” he said. “I believe in uniting. So I wouldn’t address that whatsoever.”

But there are some people who say that if Mr. Cuomo ran against Mr. McCall, he’d be the divider, a reporter explained.

“On what theory?” he replied. “I don’t understand that logic. We have elections, different people run, and people pick the person who they think would be the most qualified. And that’s called democracy. I’m for democracy, if that’s the question.”

There’s no question that Mr. Cuomo is readying a race. When a reporter asked him about a story circulating in Albany that he won’t run, Mr. Cuomo says, “I heard the opposite story.” And though Mr. Cuomo has always enjoyed hanging out at New York parties, he’s paying special attention to the New York delegation this time around. And his friends and family are happy to point out that Mr. Cuomo knows what it’s like to be Governor.

“I think he knows that office very, very well. He was a top aide to his father,” said Mr. Cuomo’s wife, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, in what is clearly a rehearsal of the family rationale.

But Mr. McCall is also readying his race. “It will be a gas,” his wife, Joyce Brown, told a reporter. “It’s time. It’s now or never.”

Mr. McCall shied away in 1998 from running for Governor, saying, “I love my job as Comptroller.” But now he’s plowing ahead, hosting a party for the New York delegation, making himself available for interview after interview, even handing out purple baseball caps with yellow embroidered maps of New York state and the word “McCall” inside the logo. His bubbly communications director, Steven Greenberg, has been handing out a press kit–he calls it “our latest propaganda”–complete with campaign-style brochures and glossy photos of Mr. McCall with Mr. Gore and Mrs. Clinton.

So far, he has the overwhelming support of New York Democratic insiders. “Andrew Cuomo is the loneliest man in the state,” said one union official, coffee cooling in his hand, at the New York breakfast. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”

–Andrea Bernstein

Rudy’s Guy Sits This One Out

“Bruce is here,” a New York delegate told Suri Kasirer at a bacon-and-eggs breakfast for the New York delegation on Monday, Aug. 14, in the Los Angeles ballroom of the Century Plaza hotel. “He’s upstairs in the lobby. He’s tired of being alone at his hotel.”

Indeed he was in the lobby, standing alone, clad in sandals, army-green shorts and a faded UCLA Bruins T-shirt. The raven-haired Ms. Kasirer is a New York delegate to the Democratic National Convention, a member of the Democratic National Committee’s Finance Committee and a lobbyist. Bruce Teitelbaum is Ms. Kasirer’s husband. Until three months ago, Mr. Teitelbaum was doing his darnedest to make sure Hillary Rodham Clinton, the woman his wife supports, never gets to become a U.S. Senator for New York.

Mr. Teitelbaum, of course, was Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign manager until May 19, the day it all flamed out. He might have had a very different summer. Instead, he is running Mr. Giuliani’s political action committee, doing commentaries and, Ms. Kasirer said, entertaining many job offers. And he is accompanying his wife to the Democratic National Convention–but sleeping in a different hotel. Ms. Kasirer, a onetime aide to former Governor Mario Cuomo, is bunking with the rest of the New York delegation at the Century Plaza. Mr. Teitelbaum is staying at the Peninsula, along with former Bill Clinton adviser James Carville, who, of course, knows a thing or two about marrying across the aisle. On Sunday, Aug. 13, Mr. Teitelbaum lounged by the pool, playing with Mr. Carville’s 5-year-old daughter, Matty. He shopped on Rodeo Drive for another UCLA T-shirt. He had dinner at Spago with a select group of New York delegates, including his and Ms. Kasirer’s friend, Emily Giske, vice chair of the New York Democratic Committee. On Monday, Aug. 14, he was getting ready to go to the beach at Santa Monica. The rest of the time, Ms. Kasirer said, “he is calling me every 10 minutes. He doesn’t know what to do with himself.”

–Andrea Bernstein

Who’s a New Yorker? Takes One to Know One

At the party for the New York delegation at the Century Plaza on Aug. 13, the so-called foot soldiers of the Democratic Party turned out in force: the kind of people who show their sweat, wear worn-out shoes and think overcooked tortellini and tough roast beef make a good meal. Happy to be among their numbers were former Mayor David Dinkins, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and any number of Assembly members, State Senators, City Council members and members of Congress. Not there were almost all members of Hillary Clinton’s staff. Not Mandy Grunwald, the media consultant who friends insist lived in New York for three decades and worked for all of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s campaigns, so how could she not be a New Yorker?

Not Mark Penn, the pollster who went to Horace Mann and worked for Ed Koch when he was barely out of Harvard. Both Ms. Grunwald and Mr. Penn were sighted next door at the St. Regis on the morning of Aug. 12; that’s where the Clintons are staying. And Ms. Grunwald was at the fancy Hollywood “Tribute to President William Jefferson Clinton” Saturday night. Since 1992, both Ms. Grunwald and Mr. Penn have orbited within the Clintons’ Washington circle. Their New York contacts have been increasingly bracketed by shuttle touchdowns. But Harold Ickes was at the New York party, grumbling about the line of guests that went out the door, whole families waiting to have their photos taken with Mrs. Clinton. “She’d stay here doing this till midnight,” he griped to his friend Victor Kovner, the New York attorney, “if we left it up to her.” The party ended at 8 p.m., when the lights went up, full bottles of beer and wine were packed into boxes, and the roast beef was wheeled out of the ballroom. The real New Yorkers trailed close behind.

–Andrea Bernstein

Growls at the Blue Dogs, But No One Knows Why

What the 200-odd protesters outside the “Blue Dog” Democrats’ celebration on the Santa Monica Pier on the night of Aug. 13 may have lacked in political direction, they more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Unlike the heartfelt and somber demonstration by pro-life demonstrators outside the estate where “Hollywood’s Tribute to William Jefferson Clinton” was held the night before, the college-age hecklers gathered at the gates of a Pacific waterfront amusement park on the night before the Democratic National Convention seemed content to make a party out of generating disruption.

It was a modest glimpse of what was to come the next day outside the Staples Center.

“Sellouts!” the Blue Dog protesters yelled at a tightly packed group of well-dressed invitees waiting between two lines of police horses separating the Democratic guests from their all-white, college-educated assailants. “Al Gore, corporate whore! Al Gore, corporate whore!”

The familiar slogans and angry put-downs were coming fast and furious at the Democrats, the most conservative members of the party, many of whom are Southerners and did not have the training that comes with being verbally assaulted by a belligerent homeless person while walking down a New York City street. Some of the twitchier guests lining up to get into the event began pressing together, surging forward each time the riot-ready members of the LAPD opened the chain-link fence to let someone in. “You can’t represent the people if you fear the people!” jeered one ponytailed protester.

“I’m gittin’ ready to kick someone’s ass,” said one Blue Dog guest to no one in particular as he was jostled from side to side.

“These guys are nothing to be afraid of,” said a different invitee to his date, referring to the jeering crowd of vegetarians, and anarchists just on the other side of the two rows of mounted riot police flanking the guests.

“I’m more afraid of the horses,” another guest offered, her head indeed perilously close to several pairs of menacing hooves.

Suddenly, a particularly determined blond agitator in a tank top darted through the police line to get to the herd of would-be attendees. “You’re all being used by the corporations,” she explained, smiling and almost breathless with enthusiasm. “Your constituents don’t support you anymore.”

When a nearby reporter asked for clarification, lest his readers suspect that she wasn’t even sure what she was protesting, she declined to elaborate. “I don’t like talking to reporters,” she explained, “because you guys are corporate media, too.”

Inside the park, the guests of the Blue Dog Congressmen were making the best of the situation, riding the giant Ferris wheel, dancing to live music and eating cotton candy. Staffers of New York Senator Charles Schumer wandered by the game booths, and Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney lingered by the bumper cars. But the overwhelming presence of police with automatic weapons, Los Angeles County Sheriffs in fatigues and low-circling helicopters–a night-and-day contrast with the polo-shirted, lightly equipped bicycle police that handled demonstrations at the G.O.P. convention in Philadelphia two weeks ago–turned the park into a bizarre cross between Coney Island and Rikers Island.

After a while, it all proved to be too much for some people. One small middle-aged woman with her husband started shouting questions at eight riot policemen walking to reinforce their colleagues at the gate. “Can we leave?” she demanded. “Are we going to be able to get out?”

By then, the main exit had been closed, and guests were directed to file out onto the pier by way of a side entrance located behind a giant sound stage. A security guard collected the bright blue badges from the guests as they left, lest they become targets for some of the more mischievous protesters lingering by the pier entrance (as if their dresses and pressed suits didn’t give them away anyway).

Tika Martin, a elderly woman who had brought her 13-year-old grandson to the park, stood by the fence, transfixed by the chaos outside. “I think it’s really sad that people can’t communicate with each other in a civilized manner,” she said, clutching a stuffed animal prize. “I know that I’m of a different generation than these people, but there are rules in a society.

“This is the only country where you could do this. People abuse their freedom.”

–Josh Benson

Ta-ta, Clintons–Again. Hollywood Will Miss You

The key to a successful performance is knowing when to get off the stage. Alas, President Clinton, who gave the performance of a lifetime–better even than his finger-wagging “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”–in his farewell speech at the Staples Center on Aug. 14, has yet to learn that lesson.

Immediately after a post-convention dinner, President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter Chelsea motorcaded over to a fresh stage in the famous back lot of Paramount Studios. There they stood under klieg lights, against the backdrop of a glittering red curtain, surrounded on all sides by the studio facades of New York City-style buildings.

He was introduced by California Governor Gray Davis, who presented him with a gag Oscar for being a friend of Hollywood. Gosh, Mr. Clinton joked, Hollywood-style, I’m not sure how my good buddy Kevin Spacey will react to this, knowing he can’t gloat anymore about his own Oscar. Then he gave a brief and final-sounding speech, peppered with phrases like “We had a good run” and “It’s been a great ride.”

A purple-clad black church choir, which had performed moments earlier with soft rocker Michael Bolton, filed onstage behind the Clintons. The Clintons waved to the adoring, delegate-heavy crowd as the choir sang a joyous “I’ll Take You There.”

The Clintons exited stage right.

Gary Busey, the actor, then came onstage, played the guitar and sang. The delegates went back to their free cotton candy, corn dogs, hamburgers and beer.

–Josh Benson

In Full Posture Mode, Cops, Protesters Clash

If it was the events of 1968 that, in a way, created the Clintons, it was a 1968-like street brawl that marked their farewell to the Democrats on the streets outside the Staples Center Monday night.

Street signs, plastic bottles of urine, chunks of metal and, finally, rubber-coated bullets flew just hundreds of yards outside the hall as attendees of a protest concert by the group Rage Against the Machine clashed with the Los Angeles Police Department. With a sense of theatrics befitting the movie capital of the world, both sides seemed to go out of their way to dramatize, and glorify, their distinctly undignified tasks.

On one hand were a bunch of concert-goers and self-styled anarchists and political protesters trying desperately to whip themselves into a state of outrage. On the other was a numerically awesome contingent of LAPD cops pretending to be U.S. Marines.

Boxed into an area of the parking lot the size of two football fields by prison-type chain-link fencing festooned from the inside with pro-Nader, anti-World Trade Organization and anti-government signs, concert attendees nearest the Staples Center baited the police in heavy riot gear on the other side of the fence, throwing objects at them, spitting and climbing to the top of the fence.

The cops, for their part, looked like an urban paramilitary force gone mad. In full Elian-raid attire, complete with riot gear and weaponry, they waded into the sporadic hail of thrown objects right up to the fence separating them from the demonstrators. At several points, a police photographer, also in riot gear, moved in to photograph some of the worst offenders, many of whom were wearing bandanas or gas masks over their faces. Other cops along the fence kept their fingers on their triggers and their guns trained waist-high on their adversaries standing within five feet of them. By this time, the sound of three police helicopters making tight circles over the parking area was so loud that it obscured the thrashing hip-hop coming from the stage. Another line of helmeted police outside the convention center exit kept an eye on gathering members of the press, hands on nightsticks.

As a giant screen on the side of the arena offered a view of the action inside, suited guests of the D.N.C. on two Staples Center balconies were giving their full attention to the events unfolding below them. Some of them pointed in the general direction of an Iraqi flag that someone was waving inside the gated compound, perhaps a protest against internationally opposed sanctions against the Middle Eastern state, or in anticipation of the LAPD’s Colin Powellesque “overwhelming force” doctrine about to be exercised on them.

Around the time that the President’s big farewell speech was winding down inside the convention hall, the contestants inside and outside the fences in the parking lot finally got the confrontation they were looking for. The giant screen on the side of the Staples Center went blank. Police cut power to the lights and sound system by the stage, then broadcast their own message to the milling crowd itching for action. Declaring an unlawful assembly, a booming voice instructed the remaining thousands: “You have 15 minutes to disperse … If you remain in the area, regardless of your purpose, you will be in violation [of the law].”

Some of the crowd did file out past stern-looking lines of police gearing up for violence. But, predictably, many others began celebrating: burning signs, beating drums, dancing and taunting the waiting police. By this time, reporters and cameramen had ringed parts of the fence like spectators at some bloodsport, and caged revelers seized their moment.

“Fuck you,” screamed a skinny, shirtless kid in glasses, pressing up against the fence to address a mix of watchful police and television reporters. “What are you looking at? I’m a white Caucasian, and I’m hurtin’ in this world.”

One reporter asked him if he was from the city or suburbs. “Why the fuck are you asking me that, man?” said the probable suburbanite. When the police raid finally came, a few minutes after the original 15-minute deadline, it was over almost as soon as it started. Like one of the pitched battles from Braveheart , cavalry charged in from a corner of the enclosed area, with nightstick-wielding foot soldiers mopping up. At the far end of the concert cage, police fired rubber bullets. While some of the more committed among the demonstrators tried to take some shots at police horses and others, Pamplona-style, taunted the mounted officers even as they fled, most of the crowd put their heads down and sprinted directly away from the tide of dark blue streaming toward them.

Some protesters remained above the fray packed onto the darkened stage. With the exception of some of the concert organizers, whom the police allowed to identify themselves–”I can only vouch for who I know,” one organizer explained to some disappointed non-organizers–those remaining were lined up against a barrier and escorted out by the cops.

Even after the area was cleared, the troops carried out their exercises with military precision. A line of 10 officers jogged, in step, across the suddenly empty ground toward the stage, halting and standing at attention at the clenched-fist signal of the one in the lead.

On the streets outside, massive columns of police marched in formation past departing delegates, within feet of the concertgoers by then regrouped on the sidewalks, yelling at Democrats and spitting on passing cars.

Eventually, everyone dispersed–presumably to regroup another day.

–Josh Benson

Give Us The IRT–Or At Least the M1

New Yorkers are not happy in a car town. It takes an hour during rush hour to get by bus–not allowed on the freeway–to the Staples Center from the Century Plaza hotel in Century City, where the New York delegation is staying. Everyone is late. But getting home is even worse.

After President Clinton’s speech on the convention’s first night, Aug. 14, the bus stop outside the convention center was packed with New Yorkers trying to get on a shuttle back to the hotel. Not just any New Yorkers–Public Advocate Mark Green; State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; Mr. Silver’s sworn enemy, former Assembly Majority Leader Michael Bragman, State Senators, Assembly members, City Council people, hundreds of them, pouring onto the street, trying to get on the bus.

LAPD officers–some on bikes, some in riot gear–pushed them back. The bicycles were moved in an encroaching line, trying to force the delegates back on the sidewalk. “We’re from New York,” yelled one delegate. “We know how to get on a bus. Just let us do it and stop yelling at us.”

“They knew how to do it in San Francisco,” grumbled former New York City Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman, referring to the convention there in 1984. “There, you could walk everywhere. And in Chicago, it was fine. There might be some legitimate security purpose to this, but I’d like to know what it is.”

Finally, after much pushing and shoving and sweating and yelling, most of the officials were on the bus.

“I have never in my life seen Keith Wright angry, until tonight,” Mr. Bragman said of the Harlem Assembly member, from the aisle of the bus.

“It doesn’t take much, with a police officer,” Mr. Wright grumbled. “Take your little bicycles and get out of here.”

“They should have had one-third less police, and one-third more buses,” said a man in the back.

“Or they could have changed the route numbers,” said a woman with a heavy Queens accent, referring to the bus numbers paired with designated hotels. “They had seven B3′s! And no B2′s!”

“If you vote for Hillary, she’ll straighten this whole mess out,” offered a portly man, beads of sweat dampening his polo shirt.

“In California?” came the retort.

At 11 p.m.–two and a half hours after Mr. Clinton’s speech ended–weary delegates finally arrived at the Century Plaza.

“I want to assure you as to one thing,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told those delegates who managed to wake up for breakfast the next day. “The bus service was complained about at the highest levels last night and this morning, and hopefully we will see some improvement tonight. Hopefully.”

It got one of the biggest applause lines of the day.

–Andrea Bernstein

Hillary Didn’t Stay, But They Loved Her Anyway

Hillary Clinton spent lots of time in Los Angeles, but not so much with the New York delegation. There was one lengthy visit Sunday night, when she stood beside Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a hotel ballroom for a seemingly endless procession of photos. On Monday morning, she was in and out for a five-minute speech, not even walking through the ballroom where delegates were breakfasting to shake hands.

To be sure, the First Lady could probably recite the phone number of the State Committeewoman for the 77th Assembly District from frequent dialing during the 18 months she’s been the inevitable Democratic Senate candidate. But on this trip there was no elbow-rubbing, no crowding onto the Staples Center floor to sweat under the television lights during her husband’s speech along with people like the State Comptroller and the State Attorney General.

Still, the delegation rewarded her with a warm fondness. During her speech, they held up hand-painted signs that read “S-E-N-A-T-O-R H-I-L-L-A-R-Y,” one letter per delegate. They sang, off-key, “New York, New York” as the first lady, blown up on huge video screens, walked onto the podium and waved to the crowd. They shouted “Hillary, Hillary, give ‘em hell!” when she pointed out it was the Children’s Defense Fund, the organization she chaired, that coined the phrase “Leave no child behind,” not Texas Governor George W. Bush or former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. When she said, “It is now up to the people of New York,” the “Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!” went on for minutes.

And after her speech, the delegation was extraordinarily generous. “I know she didn’t talk about her campaign,” said Democratic consultant Bill Lynch, “but she knows what work is still undone, and if she’s elected to the Senate, she will support Al Gore when he becomes President. People know why we’re here. These are strong Hillary supporters from New York, and this is Al Gore’s convention. She had an opportunity to speak, and in speaking she knew the right buttons and the right signals to give, to the American people in general and New Yorkers in particular.”

“She answered the question, that she has no record,” said former New York City Comptroller and two-time U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Holtzman. “She talked about her record. She talked about the work she did with regard to adoption and foster care. She talked about what she’d done before she became First Lady, her work for the Children’s Defense League.”

“It was really effective,” said Public Advocate Mark Green. “Her long personal story about the foster child told more in one story than all the slogans of the other convention. I thought she really connected to the audience–but then, I’m sitting in the New York delegation.”

–Andrea Bernstein