Business leaders joining Jerry Brown in China hope he can open doors

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BEIJING -- A former college roommate, a one-time campaign foe and a nephew are among Gov. Jerry Brown’s 90 traveling companions this week as he leads a state trade mission on a five city swing through China.

A day when most delegates made a 13-hour flight from California, plus a three-hour ride in Beijing traffic from the airport to the downtown Grand Hyatt, ended with a cocktail-and-appetizer reception in a hotel ballroom, filled with the requisite amount of small talk, welcoming remarks and polite applause.

Mixed in with the exhaustion that follows a long day of travel, there was a sense of excitement among the dozens gathered in the hotel ballroom Monday night. Many are here to look for new business opportunities in a country that is still experiencing rapid economic growth, and are hoping Brown can help open some doors.


They are also here to schmooze each other and have already begun the parties, business-card exchanges and networking that will be a focal point of the week. The delegates, who each paid $10,000 to be included on the trip, represent people from all phases of Brown’s four decades in politics -- and some who’ve know the governor since before he ever ran for office.

There are people from Brown’s past, such as retired federal Judge Frank Damrell, who was Brown’s college roommate at UC Berkeley and studied in the seminary with him in the 1950s, and Lucy Gikovich, a former Brown press secretary from his first stint as governor who now works for a Washington lobbying firm.

While the governor has yet to arrive in Beijing, some of his top aides, including executive secretary Nancy McFadden, are here, as is Susan Kennedy, the chief of staff to Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Also in Beijing is Zeb Rice, managing partner of a firm that invests in green energy companies and the son of the governor’s sister, Kathleen. Even Allan Zaremberg, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, is along for part of the trip. Zaremberg accompanied Schwarzenegger on his 2005 trip to China -- a trip that had about half the number of delegates that Brown has brought with him, but started a near riot as eager Chinese fans tried to get a glimpse of the international superstar.

Brown’s trip promises to be decidedly more low key, filled with mid-level government meetings and photo-op-ready handshake agreements. As delegates wait for Brown to arrive Tuesday afternoon, they will receive morning briefings on how to do business in China, before embarking on a walking tour of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Brown will make his first public appearance here at a delegation dinner which, according to the official itinerary, will feature California wine featured at President Obama’s 2013 inaugural ceremony.