LOCAL ELECTIONS / L.A. MAYOR : Big Names Offer Stellar Support in Fund Raising
Dana Carvey of “Saturday Night Live” drew guffaws the other night when he launched into his dead-on parodies of Ross Perot and George Bush. But he was far less successful with the likes of Linda Griego, Joel Wachs and Nick Patsaouras.
It is perhaps a commentary on the excitement level of the Los Angeles mayoral race that one of the funniest comedians around could only come up with the mildest of witticisms to lampoon the major candidates.
“Can you tell I have no material?” he asked the crowd at the Columbia Bar and Grill on Thursday night. They could. But they didn’t care.
The Richard Katz for Mayor crowd was just tickled to see a genuine celebrity out raising funds for Their Guy. And the Katz campaign is not alone in tapping one far more famous than the candidate to add some glitz and cash to the mayoral derby.
Stan Sanders, who’s playing himself up as a family man, has the most famous father of all on his side. Entertainer Bill Cosby helped draw more than 500 people to a $50-a-head fund-raiser at the Biltmore Hotel last Saturday.
Sporting his trademark smile, Cosby interrupted Sanders in mid-sentence when Sanders introduced Cosby as “old friend.” Sanders got the message: “ Longtime friend,” Cosby corrected, much to the delight of the crowd.
Although all the celebrity connections are too numerous to list, Michael Woo, who represents Hollywood on the City Council, boasts Lloyd Bridges and Ed Begley Jr., whereas Tom Houston has singer Don Henley and Michael Gross (the dad from “Family Ties”). Richard Riordan also has a piece of the celebrity pie: the endorsement of Pat Boone and financial support from celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who’s also contributing to other mayoral camps. Wachs has support from such art world luminaries as David Hockney.
Even a wanna-be such as sidewalk statesman Melrose Larry Green can boast some celebrity backing. Howard Stern endorsed him during one of Green’s numerous appearances on the off-color radio show and Jessica Hahn signed a photo of herself that said: “You’ll Always Be My Mayor.”
The outreach to the famous is certainly not new. Tired of George Bush, many of Hollywood’s biggest names enthusiastically embraced the Clinton-Gore ticket last fall, forking over big money and turning the inaugural into a Washington version of Spago at dusk.
“Any high-profile individual who the community will listen to, regardless of their profession, lends credibility to a campaign,” said Leigh Fortier, director of the local office of the Creative Coalition, which seeks to involve members of the entertainment industry in civic affairs.
Although stars can bring levity to a weighty campaign, they do not view their interest as fun and games. Celebrities in the past have taken on many causes--from the environment to peace in the Middle East--and many in the industry are troubled by the riots. They also have complained about the city’s regulatory hurdles and how they jack up movie costs.
At a mayoral forum sponsored last month by the SHOW Coalition, made up of politically active members of the entertainment industry, Riordan won points by distributing an article he wrote on the importance of preserving show business in Los Angeles.
As part of their economic plans, many candidates have argued that City Hall needs to do a better job of keeping businesses--including show business--in the city by cutting red tape.
Some campaigns that have not been flooded with Oscar nominees or other household names are questioning just how important celebrities ought to be in the race.
“Our star attraction is Linda Griego,” said Roy Behr, Griego’s campaign manager. “People support this campaign because they want to see Linda be mayor, not because we have stars. Oftentimes campaigns have to rely on celebrities when their candidate isn’t enough of an attraction.”
Katz counters that “entertainers have a right to an opinion and a right to express it. People bring different things to campaigns. Celebrities bring their notoriety.”
Offstage, some celebrities seem sensitive to questions about their campaign involvement. Cosby--who has held fund-raisers for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign and black mayors in New York, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta--dropped his smile when asked about the role he planned to play in Sanders’ campaign.
“Is that your question?” he snapped at a reporter after the inauguration of Sanders’ South-Central campaign headquarters.
Luckily, even with 24 candidates in the race, there are plenty of stars to go around--although those busy rounding up support say that big names do not ensure victory.
“People are used to stars here. They see them at Vons,” said Gary South, Woo’s campaign manager. “It’s not as big a deal here as it would be in another place. . . . Celebrities are helpful, and they do add glitz to your fund-raisers. But without intense effort, they are not a guarantee of success.”