About That Money

As some of you may have already heard, there was a political convention in town the other week. And while it sometimes seemed unduly unruly, one thing the 2000 Democratic National Convention did not appear was poor. There was that $10 million cost of the basics, of course -- the venue, and so on. That was a lot of money, but the largess made itself felt in those relentlessly high production values of nearly every DNC event. And in much costly -- you never saw so many open bars in your life -- social fun. Which in turn was expected to (and did) engender generosity in return: toward the Gore-Lieberman campaign from the guests, as they powered down all that free top-shelf booze and tucked into the gratis table d’hote.

So can you really blame certain Los Angeles city officials for wishing that some of those Democratic big spenders might also go and spend a little something on this fair and generous city? That the Demo deep pockets and their corporate sidekicks might reach down in there and come up with enough to indemnify L.A. for its own nearly extorted and last-minute $4 million contribution to the revelry? Particularly since the policing costs are still being tallied up, and collateral benefits to local merchants seem to have been gravely exaggerated?

Not quite for everyone, though: For caterers, at least, the late-summer blizzard of Democratic Convention--based affluence drifted deeply, all over town. There was, for instance, the Saturday famous-restaurant-catered, million-dollar media bash at the DWP (they forgot to invite and influence me, though). Perhaps the most vociferous event was the New Jersey delegation‘s opening-night blast that invaded one of Beverly Hills’ poshest shopping streets. The Garden State‘s dispensation of schmooze and top-shelf champagne, bouillabaisse and prime rib was called ”Dinner at Tiffany’s“; it was held outside of Tiffany‘s really, since the eminent glamour-tchotchkeseria closed its polished steel doors on the event. But no one seemed to mind, as delegates delighted in photographing each other before the shuttered, famous-name portals.

Not everyone ate that high on the hog: The Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota delegations shared plain but sabrosa barbacoa in the San Fernando Mission. The 500-member California delegation’s preliminary August 12 affair at Universal City, however, was barely less ostentatious than New Jersey‘s white-shoe jambalaya and even more surreal: Against the background of an all-natural Technicolor sunset, representatives of major corporate sponsors were given warm intros equal to those granted local political big shots like Gloria Molina. And, of course, the inner-circle corporate logos -- Citigroup, SBC, UAL and BPAmoco, in particular -- were all over, every place. As were the corporate reps, spending cash to be seen, and, one might as well presume, to influence politicians.

So why don’t they, asks Los Angeles Controller Rick Tuttle, spend a little something on the city that hosted and endured the event? In fact, why don‘t those corporate entities -- or anyone else -- pick up the $2-million-to-$4-million-plus tab ($2 million was already paid to the committee, but the event’s final overrun costs are expected to soak up an additional $2 million worth of commitment) that the DNC Host Committee stuck the city with at the last moment?

Tuttle, a longtime state Democratic loyalist and party activist, claims to have felt a personal betrayal last month, when the DNC Host Committee managed to gouge the burden of an additional $4 million out of Los Angeles.

”They basically broke their original agreement that there would be no additional costs,“ Tuttle said, referring to last year‘s final pact, which brought the spectacle to town with the understanding that Los Angeles would pick up policing and costs of transporting delegates.

Early this month, Tuttle asked in a Los Angeles Times Opinion piece that a special convention curtain-closer be held simply to raise money to pay off the host city’s deficit: ”a final fund-raising event [that] could at this time tap into the excitement of the convention,“ he said.

But no such event took place. Now that all the delegates have taken their memories, souvenirs and hangovers home, it never will.

Meanwhile, the council will (almost certainly) soon have to sign off on the last $2 million. (Mayor Richard Riordan has committed to pay $1 million in addition; I figure that as the equivalent of the average wage earner kicking in $20.) One City Hall source claims that an opportunity -- possibly the last one -- to balk the Host Committee on this last huge bite came the Friday before the event, when there was an argument with committee officials as to which council members were to get credentialed.

According to the source, the committee originally wanted to credential only the eight council members who had voted in favor of the $4 million lulu the committee demanded in June. A council official allegedly responded to this Host Committee shortchange bid by noting that the council could still hold up the last $2 million -- if the others weren‘t allowed in. Credentials were thereupon granted to all 15 members. (One of whom, Republican Rudy Svorinich, ignored the event and went on vacation.) This last-minute dickering could be interpreted as a recommitment for the city to pay the $2 million due, in exchange for its elected officials’ full credentialing to the sociopolitical event of the year. You could also say -- if you were feeling extraordinarily cynical about the matter -- that the city somehow agreed to pay $286,000 per gate pass for each of the otherwise excluded seven members.

One certain thing about the disputatious $4 million payment is that its doughty opponents took a fierce beating, on and off the council floor, particularly at the hands of the mayor and his convention-boosting compeers.

(When the story is told, when today‘s Teddy White writes The Making of the President 2000, the world may be amazed to realize how great a role GOP loyalist Dick Riordan and his Republican staff took in the nominally Democratic event.) Only Councilman Joel Wachs, who is, of course, making a serious mayoral bid, persisted in seeking redress on the matter. ”It’s not over yet,“ he declared. ”This is simply outrageous.“

A spokesman for Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who opposed the benignity, said that by now, with the big show over, the $2 million matter seems to be moot. But other council opponents seem to have gone deep into their burrows on this one. ”Don‘t even mention [the council member] by name,“ said a spokesman for one key council opponent. But he added, ”I’m sure the entire council would not object if some corporate entity offered to pay off the deficit.“

Neither would Controller Tuttle. If anyone or any convention-sponsoring corporation(s), alone or in combination, were to pay the city back for its unheralded out-of-pocket contribution, it ”would lift the damper on the convention caused by the deficit and would also be a point of pride,“ Tuttle stated.

The only problem is that the Democratic national leaders are now looking way past the Staples event into some serious months of fund-raising that, as one might expect, have nothing to do with helping the host city. Bloomberg News reported that Democratic National Committee chair Ed Rendell told core supporters -- in a gala fund-raiser luncheon the first day of the convention -- that the present major task is to raise another ”$20 million in fresh cash for Al Gore to combat a Republican-funded spending blitz for George W. Bush.“

Compared to that goal, making Los Angeles financially whole is probably not a top party priority.


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