Cuomo, Brown Attract L.A. Elite--and Plenty of Cash

Times Political Writer

Democrats made a grab Sunday night for two old-fashioned commodities that have been in scarce supply--excitement and big gobs of money.

Former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., the comeback-minded state Democratic Party chairman, moved the grubby back yard business of party fund raising into a gala Beverly Hills ballroom featuring a wound-up New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

With tables spilling into the aisles and partisan blood running hot, $600,000 poured in. Brown deputies said it was an all-time record for the state party.

Brown, the two-time presidential contender, and Cuomo, the two-time presidential sidelines player, teamed up in calling for Democrats to quit licking their wounds in silence.

“For myself, as a Democrat, respectfully, I think we have given an appropriate period of deference to the newly victorious President. It is time now for a new approach,” Cuomo told the crowd.


Told to Speak Out

“If we don’t believe what they believe, we should say so and begin working aggressively and boldly to improve this nation right now, instead of waiting for the President to stumble.”

In particular, Cuomo and the other Democratic luminaries--most of the state’s important Democratic leaders were on hand--ganged up on President Bush’s $8-billion war on drugs.

Cuomo likened it to Winston Churchill declaring war on Nazi Germany and then calling up accounts to see if he could pay for the soldiers.

“Eight billion dollars. Think of it! Eight billion for the whole United States. It’s a joke,” mocked Cuomo.

He said that New York City’s share of direct aid will be less than New Yorkers are paying just to beef up the ranks of deputy district attorneys to prosecute drug cases in the city.

Cites Savings and Loans

The favorite comparison by Democrats is the $8-billion increase in anti-drug spending at a time when taxpayers are facing a bill of more than $100-billion over 10 years to rescue the savings and loan industry.

Cuomo said Bush should find extra money for the war on drugs, “the same as he found the money for the savings and loans. He said it wasn’t there. But he found it.”

If other money cannot be found, Cuomo said the savings and loan bailout should be reduced marginally to double the war on drug funds to perhaps $16 billion.

The $500-a-plate Beverly Hilton ballroom dinner was far removed from the grass-roots fund raising that has occupied Brown since his election earlier this year. Among his proposals was one to ask rank-and-file activists to sign up for a credit card that gives the party a small financial donation when used. The unfortunate result of that was the discovery that more than half of the applicants failed the credit test.

How He’ll Measure Up

Fund raising and Democratic Party registration are the two hard and fast measurements by which Brown’s four-year chairmanship will be judged.

“Some people said he couldn’t do it. Others said he wouldn’t do it. When I walked in the room tonight, it appears he has done it,” said state Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles).

Like chairmen before him, Brown inherited a party apparatus that was in debt and massively understaffed. Since then, he has raised enough money to build the largest--and most ambitious-- party staff operation in modern times. Both in size of staff and in 1989 fund raising, Brown boasts that he has edged Republicans--something that has not occurred in many years.

The ambitions of Cuomo, and in California the ambitions of Brown, remain subjects of great curiosity.

The New York governor waved off any discussion of the 1992 presidential race, even though speculation follows him everywhere. “I’m not even thinking about it,” he said.

And Cuomo all but gushed in praise of Brown.

“Are you kidding?” he replied when asked what advice he might have for Brown. “Me advise him? He was in it before I was. He was better at it before I knew it. He’s younger than I am, smarter and better looking. He’s got a successful Democratic Party. He has lots of money and he’s got a lot of rich people and stars to come to his fund-raiser. I’m here to learn from him.”