BY PETER HECHT
DENVER – The master of ceremonies in the theater auditorium at Denver’s Westin Hotel stalled for time before a restless audience Wednesday.
“Elvis is in the building,” he insisted an hour into a “Better Tomorrow Forum” featuring authors, economists, venture capitalists and other political deep thinkers.
“Mayor Newsom is moments away.”
But it was one rare appearance that this Elvis of the Democratic National Convention wouldn’t make.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom – the most sought-after of six would-be 2010 California gubernatorial candidates now preening in Denver – was stuck in traffic after participating in an urban “green” housing tour.
While America watches the show in the convention hall, Democrats who see themselves as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s replacement are working overtime backstage, courting supporters and donors for their own campaigns.
So Newsom, who started the week with a “Rock the Vote Ballot Bash” and an appearance on Time magazine’s “Hotshots to Watch” panel, succumbed to the traffic and headed instead to his next event, a radio show at the Pepsi Center arena.
Later, he was off to show delegates a good time, hosting an “Unconventional ’08″ rock concert featuring comic Sarah Silverman and hot indie bands from Cold War Kids to Death Cab for Cutie.
California Attorney General and former Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been teasing political pundits and the press about his desire to seek an encore as California’s oldest governor, decided to skip the Democratic National Convention.
The absence of the media star and former presidential candidate saved a bit of the spotlight for less-heralded 2010 gubernatorial wannabes.
Former state treasurer and unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides was excited to promote his new Apollo Alliance for “clean energy and good jobs” at a California delegation breakfast. The event also featured the governors of New York, Ohio and West Virginia.
“You know I’ve cleverly inserted myself in the roll of the governors speakers,” quipped Angelides, who is considering another run for California’s top job.
Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who has already declared for the race, directed forums for young Democrats and delivered a passionate speech to the 441-member California delegation on humanity’s responsibility to provide “food, shelter, education and health care” for those in need.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, also eyeing the race, fired up a huge crowd at a Latino Leaders Network luncheon featuring New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Denver Mayor and Energy Secretary Federico Pena by praising his cultural and political mentors. He told of being drawn to politics after learning how Pena “imagined a great city” and built community coalitions to make it happen. “I was inspired mightily by that,” Villaraigosa said.
Democratic political consultant Garry South, who has signed on with Newsom, said gubernatorial hopefuls are also inspired by the attention they receive at the national convention and the chance to schmooze with wealthy donors from around the country.
“Because we have an open seat in 2010 and the Democrats feel this (California) governorship is theirs to be had, this convention will be an important proving ground for the wannabes,” he said.
So former state controller and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly is savoring his role as a California campaign co-chairman and delegation floor leader for the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Barack Obama.
The former eBay executive, who is mulling a 2010 gubernatorial run or possibly a role in an Obama administration, is quick to remind people that he was an early investor in Obama when the candidate was just a longshot from Illinois.
Meanwhile, state superintendent of public instruction and rumored gubernatorial candidate Jack O’Connell was delighted when a breakfast speaking spot suddenly came open before the California delegation.
And, on the Gavin Newsom radio show from the Pepsi Center, the San Francisco mayor talked up his studio guest, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
“You’re Mister Popular,” Newsom said to the host of the Democratic National Convention. “How do you walk the streets?”
Then the visiting Mister Popular offered his own insights on juggling a schedule as a political celebrity.
“I can only get through…four events in my mind,” Newsom said. “Whatever happens after that just happens.”
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Bill Wilson is a veteran freelance photographer whose work is published by San Francisco and Bay Area media. Bill embraced photography at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR). Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past five years. Email Bill Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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