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El Segundo mayor returns Utah Democrats’ favor

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LOS ANGELES — It pays to have friends in the right places.

The Utah delegation to the Democratic National Convention knows that this week.

The delegates are staying in a nice, new Hilton hotel. They have three free cars with personal drivers, and each night they can eat free ice cream at an evening social.

It's all courtesy of El Segundo Mayor Mike Gordon.

It's a relationship, Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Todd Taylor says, that goes back to 1993 when Gordon (who is a part-time mayor) and his political telemarketing partner Chris Schwenkmeyer were looking for new clients.

The Utah Democratic Party, under Taylor's new directorship, wanted to expand its fund-raising base. And Gordon, Taylor and then-Party Chairman Dave Jones struck up friendships and business arrangements.

Each year since then the state party has paid Gordon & Schwenkmeyer Inc., $10,000 to $12,000 a year for a variety of services. And Gordon & Schwenkmeyer, which was a struggling new firm in the early 1990s, now has the biggest share of the telemarketing pie of the states' and national party's operations in the whole nation, Taylor says.

"I think (Utah Democrats) helped them out when they needed it, and they've done a great job for us ever since," Taylor said Sunday night.

When Los Angeles was picked as the site for the 2000 party convention — and Taylor was grousing to Gordon about how the Utah delegation could be stuck in a hotel an hour-and-a-half out of town — Gordon suggested the new Hilton Garden Inns in his town, which lies just several miles south of downtown L.A. and a stone's throw from the Los Angeles International Airport.

It took a little work, but eventually the Utah and Nevada delegations won approval from the Democratic National Committee for the change to El Segundo.

And it's paying off right away.

While the DNC gave each state party chairman (or in the case of Utah, chairwoman Meg Holbrook) a car and driver for the week, Sunday those cars and drivers were taken away and given to DNC bigwigs.

So, the three off-duty city employees provided by Gordon to drive delegates are coming in very handy.

Not only cars and ice cream. Gordon and his volunteers are ready to help with rides to nearby grocery stores (each room has a refrigerator and microwave), find baby-sitters, round up national newspapers and perform other tasks aimed at making the Utah delegation's stay one of easy and happiness.

Monday morning, Gordon and his El Segundo host committee hosted a breakfast for the Utah and Nevada delegations at a health club facility around the corner from the hotel.

John Stockton, Karl Malone and fellow members of the Utah Jazz might recognize the place — NBA visiting teams that come to town to play the L.A. Lakers and Clippers use the facility to practice before games in the new Staples Center, site of the Democratic convention.

Other tidbits about the Utah delegation include:

A couple of convention attendees who tried to take the new light-rail system, which has a stop next to the El Segundo Hilton Gardens, received a rude awakening Sunday.

The transfer station they needed to use to get to downtown was closed due to a shooting. No one on the train was attacked, but police closed the stop and wouldn't let transfer passengers get off. And one woman said she could look down on the platform and see the blood from the victim. The travelers had to turn around and catch an opposite train back to the hotel without ever getting downtown. Welcome to the big city.

David Nelson, a member of the Democratic National Committee gay and lesbian caucus, and several other caucus members attended a special reception Sunday night for gay and lesbian delegates to the convention.

Nelson said as many as 300 people were at the receptions and as of Sunday 200 delegates had joined the caucus, making the gay and lesbian contingent 5 percent of the 4,300 delegates.

"But we believe that number will grow as the week goes on," Nelson said.

At the 1996 national convention an early gay and lesbian count showed 191 caucus members, but as more gays and lesbians and their supporters learned of the caucus, they joined, and by the end of that convention their caucus numbers doubled.

Nelson has long been a leader in the Utah and national Democrat parties' gay and lesbian movement.

The Utah delegation is a diverse lot, half are women, there are two Hispanics, one American Indian, one African-American and one Asian-American.

Welcoming a dozen state delegations to a dinner and social event Sunday night at the Pacific Design Center in the city of West Hollywood, the mayor of that city said: "West Hollywood is the design capital of the nation, and we have the largest percentage of gay and lesbian citizens of any city in the nation."

The "senior delegate" to the 2000 convention is Beverly White from Tooele. This is her ninth convention — she missed the 1976 convention "because I wasn't to enthusiastic about Jimmy Carter." Carter not only won the nomination, but the presidency.

White's favorite convention? "Hard to say," recalls the grandmother who is carrying a Harry Potter book with her "to know what my grandkids are up to." She liked the 1972 convention because it was unclear going in who would win. Ultimately, George McGovern won the nomination, but he was swept away by GOP President Richard Nixon.

"The 1980 convention in New York" was "the one where we had the most fun," the former Utah House member recalls. Former state Sen. Francis Farley and a group of about 10 women rented large accommodations in New York "and we just all had a great time."

While While Joseph Lieberman is trying to become the nation's first Jewish vice president, Donald Dunn is trying to become the first Jew elected to Congress from Utah.

Dunn, who is running against Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, says Lieberman's selection brought almost delirious joy at a reception sponsored by several Jewish political groups Sunday. Feelings soared more when President Clinton told them he thought progress was still being made in the Middle-East peace process.

"They were handing out these Gore-Lieberman buttons printed in Hebrew," Dunn said, showing his. "They are all excited. It means everything to them to have Lieberman on the ticket . . . . And progress on the peace process makes them enthused."

Dunn said fellow Utah Jews with whom he's talked are also beyond pleased with the choice of Lieberman — and he hopes that will motivate them to take a more active role in Utah politics and to even help his race.

"I've also found that many of my Mormon friends are happy with Lieberman and having someone who is such a strong moral leader," Dunn said. He adds he feels that also makes it easier for him to run this year.

Even if Dunn wins his race, he would not be the first Jew to hold a major public office in the Beehive State. Utah is one of only a few states to have elected a Jewish governor — Simon Bamberger, early in the past century.

E-MAIL: bbjr@desnews.com ; lee@desnews.com