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Life’s a Beach Party for Pete Wilson’s Loyal Locals

Hoopla became a more easily defined term at Friday’s San Diego Inaugural Celebration, given for a crowd of 3,000 home folks at the San Diego Convention Center to celebrate Governor Pete Wilson, the hometown boy who made good.

A fountain of indoor fireworks erupted in the main ballroom when Wilson and his wife, Gayle, were introduced. The Beach Boys performed for a full 90 minutes and were nearly as explosive, the crimson-coated Vista High School Marching Band played with brassy exuberance, the Torrey Pines High School Drill and Dance Team showed off their electric blue body suits and the San Diego Chargers cheerleaders led a crowd predisposed to crow. There was also the presence of such Hollywood actors as Martin Milner and Scott Baio and a motif that took the local saying “life’s a beach” to a new and conceivably unsurpassable extreme.

The beach party has been a staple of Wilson fund-raisers and campaigns in San Diego throughout the former mayor and senator’s career. And for nostalgia’s sake, the Inaugural Celebration--an accommodation for some of the thousands of loyal locals who couldn’t make it to the official inaugural events held earlier in the week in Sacramento--did everything but carpet the ballroom in sand. Twenty-foot-tall palm trees constructed from yellow and blue balloons flanked the main stage, hundreds of beach balls bounced around the floor, and a mountain of California oranges meant to be taken home in souvenir bags supported a full-scale lifeguard stand surrounded by surfboards.

Arriving guests stood in line to be garlanded with leis and crowned with pressed-foam straw hats, banded in red, white and blue and fronted with “Governor Pete” stickers, and the faces under the brims of those hats gleamed with an almost child-like exuberance. Under the sail-tented outdoor pavilion, a trio of vintage woodies, strung with bunting and festooned with clusters of beach balls, pointed the way to a keepsake photograph booth shaped like a “pipeline” wave, in which the Wilson faithful smiled for the birdie while posed on a surfboard.

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As the crowd swelled, the army of security personnel became less and less obvious, although the static-crusted voices squawking from walkie-talkies were never too distant from the ear.

Local politicians turned out in force, joined for the evening by Sen. John Seymour (R-Calif), just sworn into office as Wilson’s replacement in Washington. The locals on the guest list included Mayor Maureen O’Connor; County Supervisors Susan Golding, Brian Bilbray, Leon Williams, John MacDonald and George Bailey; City Council members Ron Roberts, Abbe Wolfsheimer, Judy McCarty and Linda Bernhardt; Sheriff Jim Roache; Coronado Mayor Mary Herron; state Assembly members Carol Bentley, Robert Frazee and Tricia Hunter; state senators William Craven and Lucy Killea, and California Board of Equalization member Ernest Dronenburg

Members of the local Republican Establishment were relatively scarce, since so many had attended the official Sacramento functions. One Point Loma matron who had done so but nevertheless showed up Friday said, “We’re all kind of inauguraled out.”

There were several present, however, including Kim and Marilyn Fletcher, Mike and Carol Alessio, Fred and Joy Frye, Leon and Barbara Parma, John and Anne Davies, Anne Evans, Dottie Howe and former, briefly-in-office state Assemblyman Jeff Marston. Several dozen sports stars turned out for the occasion, including former heavyweight champ Archie Moore and former Chargers Rolf Benirschke and Willie Buchanon.

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The party commenced at 6 p.m., which allowed 2 1/2 hours in which to schmooze and sample the ritual steamship round of beef (along with 3,000 miniature quiches and 5,000 egg rolls) before the introduction of the Wilsons, who were ensconced out of sight at a sponsors party in a separate room. Diversions during this period included the masters of ceremonies, KFMB radio clowns Mac Hudson and Joe Bauer, who whipped the crowd into something resembling a foam by reciting the same jokes they told in Sacramento earlier in the week, and the period rock ‘n’ roll performed by the ducktailed Lil Elmo and The Cosmos.

The theme of Wilson as first-governor-from-San Diego surfaced constantly through the evening, but, thanks to a logistic snafu, Wilson may also come to be known as “the governor so nice they introduced him twice.”

Developer Ernest Hahn, the distinguished civic leader, took the stage to introduce the Wilsons. “I’m going to have an honor that no other person will ever have in their life or in perpetuity, because I’m going to introduce to you the first governor of California from San Diego,” he said. His words were partly drowned out by the Vista band, however, which suddenly struck up the “Washington Post March,” a cue that sent the Torrey Pines dance troupe, pompons waving wildly, surging onto the stage. They were not followed by the Wilsons.

Hahn’s second introduction--again interrupted by the band--did produce the governor and his wife, who swept up to the podium to a startling burst of indoor fireworks accompanied by a mass beach ball bash that sent hundreds of the objects flying across the room. Gayle Wilson, in the same red suit she wore to the previous Sunday’s inaugural gala at Sacramento’s Arco Arena, smiled broadly as her husband told the crowd, “I will always call San Diego home, always be so tremendously proud of San Diego.”

Referring to the 1992 Republican Convention, which will go to Houston and not San Diego, Wilson said, “Anyone who is lucky enough to find this city is lucky indeed.” And finally, addressing the point nearest the civic heart, he said, “I intend to spend the next four years the best way I know how, by being the best governor San Diego’s ever sent to Sacramento.”

Wilson himself introduced the Beach Boys and then retired with his wife to the front row of the small, roped-off seating area reserved for significant guests, who had fun, fun, fun for the next 90 minutes as the band swung through such vintage beach classics as “California Girls,” “Wouldn’t It be Nice” and “Be True to Your School.”

For those who couldn’t bring themselves to quit the party before midnight, Lil Elmo and The Cosmos returned to keep the rock rolling.


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