Atlanta Turns Hot Spot as Democrats Come to Town

On the whole, Democrats next week will probably wish that they were back in San Francisco.

This weekend, political junkies were buzzy with rumored details of the still un-buttoned-down Democratic National Convention that opens a week from today in Atlanta's Omni Convention Hall.

Because few program participants have yet been set, speculation on who the speakers will be is rampant. The hottest talk is that Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis will introduce her presidentially aspiring cousin to the convention Thursday night.

This would be an attempt to keep controlled and positive images of the candidate on prime-time TV. The networks have said that they will probably not cover the campaign-prepared biographic film that precedes the appearance of the Massachusetts governor but the Dukakis campaign is hopeful they might reconsider if his actress cousin is doing a live narration.

Obtrusive Podium

It will take an actress of her quality, insiders say, to project to the convention from the giant wedding cake-style podium--or, as it is called among convention staffers, "the podium that ate the Omni." Those familiar with the construction inside the cramped convention center say that the speaker atop the podium will not be seen from at least 10% of the 11,000 seats.

For a positive image, viewers at home will believe that the Democratic Party is maintaining its position as the party of the average person--or at least the party of the average-height person. The podium contains an elevator element, one source explained, which will raise not just the speaker, but the rostrum and the TelePrompTer to identical heights no matter who is facing the TV camera platform. One quipster said that this would allow Dukakis and former basketball star Bill Bradley to stand on, if not run on, the same platform.

Looking good on TV is important for the Democratic faithful who are not delegates or alternates, but who believe they are attending the convention. In reality, they will be attending a screening of the convention at the Georgia World Congress Center across the street.

Space is so tight in the Omni that only an estimated 150 VIP seats are available inside. That limitation--plus the 95+ degree heat--will keep many of the big givers back at their hotels, particularly if they are staying in the plush downtown Ritz Carlton, the Westin, or in suburban Buckhead at the top-drawer Ritz Carlton there (also the stopping place of the Hollywood glitz group and of Sen. Ted Kennedy).

Family Affair

One of Atlanta's finest restaurants, 103 West, is out in Buckhead--and it's owned by none other than Panos Dukakis, the candidate's cousin. That's not the only family related touch, because Kitty Dukakis' father, Harry Ellis Dickson, the assistant conductor of the Boston Pops, will take up the baton at a special performance by his orchestra during the week.

One Atlanta veteran said Buckhead was "delightful" and "those delegates out in Buckhead will probably not want to come back into the city."

But the Brat Pack celebrities--like Rosanna Arquette and Rob Lowe--may have to make the trip because, reportedly but not yet announced, they are starring at the daily breakfast programs sponsored by the Democratic National Committee. The young celebs, many of whom were involved in the successful California anti-toxics initiative, Prop 65, are supposed to tackle a different issue every morning.

Other stars will be utilized to "bookend" each evening, but the only one seemingly signed at this time is Whitney Houston, who will open the proceedings next Monday, probably singing the National Anthem in a production involving an estimated 2,000 first-graders.

An interesting scheduling item is the simultaneous screening at the Fox Theater of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a benefit for the Democratic National Committee somehow (and perhaps inadvertently) timed to coincide with the keynote address set to be delivered by Texas State Treasurer Ann Richards.

Another interesting event is a book party for Santa Monica Assemblyman Tom Hayden, who spent the 1968 convention in the streets of Chicago, hosted by Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young to celebrate the publication of Hayden's memoir, "Reunion."

Party Pickings Slim

For those veterans of San Francisco, where there was a party every minute, the pickings in Atlanta look a little slim. Many of the major newspapers, which hosted massive parties by the Bay, have pulled out of the social circuit for this go-round.

Some major events set for the weekend before the convention: publisher Anne Cox Chamber's black-tie event for the DNC Saturday night at her home; the luncheon and tour of the Carter Presidential Center, sponsored by DNC chair Paul Kirk, on Sunday afternoon; and the dinner at the home of Atlanta developer John C. Portman Jr. Sunday night, one of the five events that the Service Employees International Union is urging delegates to boycott, citing labor problems with Portman.

And what else are those already in Atlanta talking about? The heat. And whether the convention center, already described by some as being "warmish," will be able to maintain a comfortable coolness with stage lights, TV lights and general body heat.

As for Atlanta, one convention person explained: "It's too hot. It's 98 degrees. It's just miserable, like hitting a wall. It makes Washington, D.C., look comfortable."

The Democrats are obviously wishing.

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