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Schmoozing toward Los Angeles

As I was missing in action for some wingding for Democratic members of the House at City Hall, two resourceful journalists-in-the-making, Vermel and his Ammonia Blossom, succeeded in knocking out two of the waiters, sneaking in wearing purloined tuxedoes, and circulating with hors d'oeuvres.

I've discovered a new withdrawal symptom for Innuenda, the antidepressant I stopped taking last week. Absentmindedness! Wednesday night I was supposed to cover some wingding for Democratic members of the House at City Hall. And on top of that, I was supposed to meet my 12-year-old son Vermel and his paramour, Ammonia Blossom, there. Ammonia planned to write about the event for her summer school social studies class.

When I didn't show, the two resourceful journalists-in-the-making succeeded in knocking out two of the waiters, sneaking in wearing purloined tuxedoes, and circulating with hors d'oeuvres. Here's Ammonia's report:

Reporter's Notebook
Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2000
By Ammonia Blossom

In the North Light Court of San Francisco's City Hall, some of the assembled Congressional Democrats from around the country are listening to California Gov. Gray Davis' words of welcome. But as the steady din under the governor's remarks indicates, many are not paying attention.

They're networking.

It's the Northern Californian high-tech warm-up for next week's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Dozens of Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives are assembling for a three-day field trip to bone up on tech industry issues before heading down to L.A.

The members are eager students. Rep. Eva Clayton, for example, wants to find out how to turn her North Carolina district into the next Silicon Something.

"I come from rural America, and I wanted to see what opportunities there are for finding venture capital financing for new enterprises in rural areas," Clayton says when asked why she made the detour to the Bay Area.

Clayton later describes her goal to Megan Smith, chief executive of gay and lesbian portal PlanetOut. Smith knows just the person Clayton should talk to: Tripod founder Bo Peabody, who started Village Ventures, a venture capital firm that focuses on "underserved regions" of the country.

The 30 or so Democrats face a hectic schedule of similar schmoozing while in the Bay Area. Tonight they are welcomed by Davis, field trip organizer Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, and the Mayors Brown (Willie of San Francisco and Jerry of Oakland). Tomorrow they'll meet with venture capitalist William Hambrecht, then with CEOs including Yahoo's Jerry Yang and 3Com's Eric Benhamou. U.S. Commerce Secretary Norm Mineta will address the group before it moves on to a biotech roundtable. Dinner's at the Getty mansion (press not invited).

At tonight's reception, local officials have a mouthful for the Congress members in terms of helping the Bay Area cope with the tech boom's nastier side effects.

"They ought to do something about the energy crisis in California," suggests Oakland's Brown, a man of ideas who was nicknamed "Governor Moonbeam" in his days as California governor. "The Federal government ought to get back into the energy business and promote solar power, wind and conservation. They ought to do something about $2 gasoline."

San Francisco's Brown chimes in, noting the tech boom's squeeze on local housing.

"The increased number of technologically trained individuals requires some reconsideration of housing assistance," he says.

City Hall's North Light Court includes a kiosk selling official San Francisco street signs. Available for purchase is one that reads, "Clothing optional beyond this point." One street sign, perhaps more discomfiting to the assembled Democrats, reads simply, "BUSH."

Democrats rule the roost here in San Francisco, where no Republican has waged a credible run for city office in recent memory--and in California at large, where both U.S. senators and the governor are Democrats.

Still, Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush has been a big hit in Silicon Valley, raising scads of money and collecting endorsements from numerous prominent Valley CEOs.

Davis, who will host next week's nominating convention for the Democrats, shrugs off Dubya's high-tech popularity.

"Historically, CEOs support Republicans," he says philosophically. "Despite that, Al Gore has done pretty well. He's raised almost as much. And I'll guarantee you, he'll win Santa Clara County."

"Tech tour" organizer Pelosi says she sees the event as an opportunity for mutual education. She says members of Congress need more firsthand knowledge of the technology industry before making decisions on encryption; on FASB rules for stock options, mergers and acquisitions; on securities litigation; on H1-B visas; on digital signatures...

"The list goes on and on," she says. "Every week I go back to Washington--40 times a year--and every time I think I'm going into a time warp. Each time I return here, I'm reinvigorated by what's going on and don't want important public policy decisions to be made without sharing the experiences we have here."

Pelosi says she sent fellow Democrats copies of "The New, New Thing," by Michael Lewis.

First field trips, then homework. What next? Rumor has it a pop quiz will follow dinner at the Gettys'. I hate exploiting child labor. Next week I'll write the column all by myself--with your rumors.