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Beverly Hills bigwig hosts Democrats' power brunch

By BILL ADAIR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2003


BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The books on Sim Farar's coffee table gave a few hints about his political leanings -- An Invitation to the White House by Hillary Rodham Clinton and an autographed copy of Selected Remarks by William Jefferson Clinton 2002.

Nearby were framed photos of Farar with President Clinton, Farar with Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman, Farar with California Gov. Gray Davis and Farar with Sen. Bob Graham.

At the edge of the living room was Graham himself, telling 30 people in Farar's condo that he can win the presidency.

"I believe I can carry Florida -- and I won't have to have the U.S. Supreme Court vote to achieve that goal," Graham said.

The Sunday brunch at the condo -- on the 18th floor of a posh tower called The Remington, where the residents include Johnny Carson -- was Graham's first campaign event outside Florida, part of a weeklong tour in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Hampshire. Graham is introducing himself to party activists in hopes of collecting votes -- and a few checks.

He met Monday with Disney chief Michael Eisner, then flew to San Francisco. He is scheduled to attend a reception this morning that will include the city's mayor, Willie Brown.

But the Florida senator is months behind his Democratic rivals, who have visited California many times and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars here.

Farar said Sen. John Kerry -- who has visited the condo before -- called a few hours before Graham arrived to request another visit. Farar, a prominent investment banker, said Kerry told him that Graham would have a job in a Kerry administration. Farar took that to mean that Kerry might want Graham as his running mate.

Many Democrats are unaware Graham is running for president. He has filed papers to run, but will not make his formal announcement until the week of April 28. In the meantime, he is getting relatively little press coverage. A column about the candidates in the Los Angeles Times on Monday had no mention of him.

At Farar's brunch, there were no Graham buttons, bumper stickers or banners, just the candidate in a blue blazer and khaki slacks criticizing President Bush's tax cuts and fretting about Syria's aid for terrorists. Graham, a critic of that country's terrorist ties for more than a year, took a subtle shot at President Bush by saying he was "very interested that in the last week the administration has finally discovered Syria."

Graham, a former Florida governor, reminded the crowd that four of the last five presidents had been governors and that all the Democrats elected since 1964 were from the South.

He dropped a few names. He said his late sister-in-law Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, had often asked him if he had presidential ambitions. He said he had breakfast with Warren Buffett in which the billionaire spoke of Graham's meal -- granola and bananas -- to explain how global markets were changing. (Banana production is up, while granola/wheat production is headed down.)

Most of the people at Sunday's brunch said they were uncommitted in the presidential race. They might have a preference for one candidate, but their primary goal, in the words of investment banker Dan Weinstein, is "somebody who can beat Bush."

Graham was workmanlike in his remarks. His low-key comments did not appear to ignite tremendous enthusiasm among the 30 Democrats, but they had polite praise.

Weinstein said he liked Graham's moderate approach on domestic affairs and his more aggressive approach in the Middle East. "I think he's got the right message," Weinstein said.

Farar, the host, is a party fundraiser who met Graham when the Florida senator headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Farar called Graham "a very wise man, a great leader."

Many Democrats have said Graham might best be suited to be a vice presidential candidate. Farar said he could envision Graham in either role.

"I'd like to see Graham on the ticket -- I don't care if it's the top spot or the bottom spot," Farar said.

Graham seemed more spirited and got a more enthusiastic response Monday afternoon at a meeting with a dozen trial lawyers.

At that event, Graham unveiled his new campaign tie. After wearing the same polyester Florida ties for 25 years, he has opted for a silk design with stylized American flags.

'This is a historic day," he said. "Today is the beginning of my repositioning from Florida to the nation."

-- Staff writer Bill Adair can be reached at adair@sptimes.com.

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