Commentary: Room Without a View at the Plaza

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Los Angeles Times

Famous hotels, like famous people, acquire reputations — social, stylistic, political.

Take the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, as high and handsome a swoop of glass as you’ll find hereabouts, a choice specimen of that architectural style best summed up as Sunbelt Stalinist. The Century Plaza’s pedigree is Republican, a solidly established Establishment symbol. From its below-ground ballroom to its penthouse suites, presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bushes I and II have rallied thousands and raised millions.

Then there are those grand Beverly Hills hotels, the hunkered-down Hilton and the picturesquely pink Beverly Hills Hotel. That’s where people go when the gala is liberal or Democratic. Same thing goes for San Francisco: The Republicans love the St. Francis, the Democrats are fond of the Fairmont. In Sacramento, the GOP hangs out at the Capitol Hyatt, the Democrats walk a block farther, to the Sheraton, which bears none of the Hyatt’s karma from years of labor picketers.

At the Century Plaza this evening, our governor will be doing his bit to burnish the hotel’s image as a destination for Republican swells. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s fundraiser — the latest in a nationwide sweep — has a top-end per-couple price tag of $89,200. That will get divvied up between his pet ballot proposals and his still-not-a-sure-thing run for reelection.

And once more, the money will be inside the hotel and the mad-as-hell will be outside it. In the nearly 40 years since the Century Plaza opened, the streets nearby have become Los Angeles’ Capitol mall, its Hyde Park Corner. In 1967, 10,000 antiwar protesters there harried President Johnson (yes, a Democrat but still Establishment) and themselves got harried by the police. In 2000, the Century Plaza’s maids cheered from the balconies as striking janitors marched by.

This evening, ticked-off Californians will show up again, this time stylin’ like the fat cats, in top hats and tiaras, for a mocking protest of Schwarzenegger’s coast-to-coast tour through the checkbooks of the mighty in Ohio, in New York City, in Washington, D.C., in L.A. and, on Saturday, in Indian Wells. It takes a fitness buff of Schwarzenegger’s caliber to survive a rubber-sirloin circuit like that.

I wonder whether tonight’s protesters can get as much attention as the single voice I heard last week. By income, social standing and celebrity, Warren Beatty could be at the head table at the Century Plaza. But he was over in that pink Beverly Hills hotel, honored by and raising money for a less well-oiled cause: the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (tickets $350 each).

Schwarzenegger plays his politics on a stage, not at a desk, and Beatty is among the few who can also command a stage and match the governor’s voice. He spoke of his political movie brethren: Schwarzenegger, Reagan, George Murphy, Sonny Bono. “There was always a part of me that has wanted to see them acquit themselves well because they were fellow actors and I liked them personally…”

As for Schwarzenegger: “I’m just as vain. I’m just as full of myself… but I have been active in American politics one hell of a lot longer than he has and I’d like to help him….

“Arnold: Be the action hero I know you can be… If you’re looking for something to terminate, terminate your dinners with the brokers of Wall Street. Terminate your dinners with the lobbyists of K Street. Terminate collecting out-of-state right-wing money. Terminate the $70-million special election you want to hold to divert the public’s attention away from the budget [crisis].”

Cui bono is not Sonny’s brother. What do these millionaires get out of those dinners with the governor? Are they really paying $10,000 and $20,000 just to get their pictures taken with a movie star? Has anyone told them that “Buy California” means our products, not the whole state? People are already wondering, is Schwarzenegger running California or running for president? One of these nights, the reviled Gray Davis should show up in Schwarzenegger’s dreams
as Marley’s Ghost, chained to the money boxes of his own making and warning that whatever Schwarzenegger wants to accomplish — and I hope he accomplishes a great deal — it may all come to naught.

The governor tells reporters that nobody cares but other reporters. “I have never,” he said, “seen anyone come up to me and say, ‘Governor, please stop the fundraising.”

Well, sir, you were on TV responding to what Beatty had to say. But maybe you mean you haven’t heard it from the rest of us. Break out of your cordon sanitaire tonight, tear yourself away from the millionaire at your elbow and step out that front door at the Century Plaza. You’ll get the message.
Patt Morrison’s e-mail address is [email protected]

Consumer Watchdog
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