Party Politics in Beantown


By Lorraine Woellert and Mike McNamee The Black Eyed Peas recently made the hip-hop mainstream with breakout album Elephunk, but something is a little too mainstream about tonight's crowd at Avalon -- some folks are wearing ties and fiddling with their BlackBerrys.

At about midnight, when the Peas bound onto stage, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe looks down from the VIP balcony onto a sea of perspiring politicos. As the band slams into the verbal acrobatics of Hey Mama -- "Cutie cutie, make sure you move your booty" -- McAuliffe does his version of hip: He rolls up his sleeves, a la Howard Dean, but he's still wearing his yellow tie and his politician's smile. He nods with the music for a few minutes before turning to work the red velvet rope line by his white pleather booth.

It's all in a night's work at the Democratic National Convention, where the real action takes place away from the official stage at Boston's FleetCenter. All over Beantown, from Fenway Park to yachts docked at Commercial Wharf, corporations, activists, and law firms are toasting politicians and hyping causes until the wee hours.

PEAS AND QUEUES. What makes a good convention party? The Red Hot Chili Peppers, a buffet of $250-a-bottle Scotches, a clutch of celebs -- actor Ben Affleck is hot, but Michael Moore, the ubiquitous filmmaker, is this crowd's heartthrob -- and, of course, a senator or two.

Giddy Dems aren't taking their cues from Kerry, a buttoned-down candidate from buttoned-down Beacon Hill. No, they're inspired by their party's real rallying cry: Anybody But Bush. "It could be Donald Duck up there, and they'd still vote for him," says Mike Power, a 28-year-old student at Boston's Suffolk University Law School.

Along with hundreds of other loyalists, Power watched former President Bill Clinton on TV at a salute to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a bash hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. The honoree sent his regrets, but the liquor lobby's CEO, Peter Cressy, is ecstatic at the turnout. He'll throw a similar party for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist at the Republican Convention in New York next month.

WORLDS COLLIDE. Gray hair abounds on the FleetCenter podium, but politics runs on the energy of twentysomething former class presidents (or class presidents' campaign managers). The two worlds collide at the parties, where ripped T-shirts mingle with charcoal suits and the blue halogens illuminating the dance floor compete with the cold glow of cell phones and PDAs.

Outside Avalon, a gay nightclub in a warehouse behind Fenway's Green Monster, hundreds of people line the sidewalk in the drizzle. Ted Kennedy's concert at the Boston Symphony Orchestra has just let out, and things are winding down at John Breaux's zydeco party at the New England Aquarium. That means the Peas -- courtesy of the Recording Industry Association of America and Rock the Vote -- are the only hot ticket left in town.

Kathy Kulkarni, who has just come from the Breaux party, is one of the lucky few with an invite. "This party," says the Dem Hill staffer, "is going to bring people that typically wouldn't ever go to a Black Eyed Pea show."

FIGHTING WORDS. Like Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). He's heading for the red carpet now. Senator, what's your favorite Black Eyed Peas song? Dorgan gives a silent senatorial smile before being whisked inside.

The drizzle drives the overflow crowd down the block to Tequila Rain, where liquor distributor Diageo (DEO) is honoring the California Latino Legislative Caucus. Like all the other events this week, admission is free -- but the crowd must endure a half-hour of political speeches before the hot merengue starts.

California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante launches into a tirade against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who ranks alongside Cheney, Ashcroft, and Halliburton for getting a rise from diehard Dems -- for calling legislators "girlie men." "When we finally get this budget settled, [Assembly Speaker Fabian] Nunez should challenge him to a boxing match," Bustamante shouts. "A charity match -- with proceeds for, say, a group for sexually harassed women."

Even in daylight, corporate largesse is flowing. More than three dozen companies and trade groups -- from Microsoft (MSFT) to the American Dental Assn. -- sponsored A Day at Fenway, where members of Congress and their big donors lined up for a clubhouse tour and the chance to take batting practice. On the Red Sox hallowed ground, however, the real task at hand is politics. "This is not campaigning as usual," said Daniel S. Mitrovich, a partner in Los Angeles-based consulting firm, who managed to hit a line drive even while wearing a suit and tie. "This is hardball." For more on the Democratic National Convention, see BusinessWeek Online's continuing coverage at www.businessweek.com/election2004.htm

Woellert is a correspondent and McNamee is deputy chief in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau


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