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From catwalk to convention walkway, Brinkley wows 'em


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 16, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- Christie Brinkley is discussing the dangers of handguns and high-flux beam reactors, and the men are going ga-ga.

She's in the walkway in front of Section 212 at the Staples Center, surrounded by a crowd of men eager to have their picture taken with her.

"What American in his right mind would need a cop-killer bullet? As a mom, I can't stand back and let the NRA set up in the Oval Office," says the supermodel/Goredelegate/anti-nuclear activist.

"You're soooo articulate and passionate," gushes Sam Irvin, a delegate from Walsh, Colo. "No one thinks about it like you -- no one articulates it like you."

Those words make her beam.

She is no longer just the "quintessential bod beautiful," as she was once described by People magazine. And she is no longer just Billy Joel's ex or a shill for home exercise equipment. Here, on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, the supermodel has legitimacy. Christie is a policy wonk.

"Here she comes!" shouts Michelle Foley, a delegate from Hershey, Pa., when she spots Brinkley on the convention floor.

The supermodel is standing by the New Mexico delegation as a swarm of photographers and TV cameramen follow her every move. She's carrying a Sony Camcorder so she can record a video diary for Good Morning America. It's a strange media moment -- video cameras shooting Brinkley shooting a video camera.

Delegates -- nearly all of them men -- are lining up four-deep to see her. Says one delegate: "Billy Joel was an idiot for losing her."

Skimpy bikinis

She puts down the video camera to discuss how she got involved in the anti-nuclear movement in the Hamptons, the exclusive Long Island, N.Y., community where she lives.

"We're in the cross hairs of nuclear reactors that are in trouble," she says.

Brinkley, 46, is on the board of directors of Standing for Truth Against Radiation, a group that has fought to shut down reactors. She has spoken in favor of solar and wind power, and lobbied federal officials to study the health effects of radiation on children. She's hosted fundraisers for the anti-nuke group, including a recent concert with Joel, her ex-husband, that raised about $200,000.

She campaigned to be a Gore delegate -- "I walked the bitterly cold streets of New York" -- and lost by 80 votes. But the Gore campaign appointed her a super-delegate.

The Staples Center, the site of the Democratic convention, is a long way from the Caribbean beaches where she used to pose in skimpy bikinis. She appeared on more than 500 magazine covers, including the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues in 1979-81. She has peddled Cover Girl cosmetics and Chanel perfume and appeared in Joel's video for the song Uptown Girl. Most recently, she has done an infomercial with Chuck Norris for the Total Gym.

This week, however, she wants to talk politics.

"Some people think -- "Celebrities, what do they know?' -- but people might tune into a celebrity," she says. "People don't expect a supermodel to discuss the effects of a nuclear reactor on a neighborhood."

'Too popular'

Everywhere she goes, Brinkley is trailed by gawkers and TV cameras. Men appear dumbfounded as they stare at her, like they're seeing a solar eclipse.

Her makeup is perfect, her cheekbones like majestic cliffs. Men are especially interested in her tight white skirt and her blue polka dot blouse, which has several buttons open, revealing a hint of supermodel cleavage.

But the Brinkley traffic jam in the aisles makes it difficult for other delegates to see.

"I love you," says one New York delegate who can't see the podium, "but you're too popular."

She moves to Section 213, where she tapes former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, as they watch a video tribute to themselves. It's yet another layer of media-age video: video cameras taping Brinkley taping the Carters watching a tape.

After the tribute, she walks up to President Carter and tells him that she not only admired his work as president, she especially liked the work he has done since he left the White House.

As Brinkley stands in a walkway above the convention floor, she is constantly interrupted by men who want to be photographed with her and say hello.

Two delegates from Colorado approach her with a proposition: Will she appear at a Democratic fundraiser? It'll be cool, they say. It's going to be held in the space-age house made famous in a Woody Allen movie.

It'll be "a high-donor fundraiser," one of them says. "We'd love to have you."

The Colorado party chairman arrives and sings the praises of the house. "A friend of mine spent $5-million fixing it up."

Brinkley scolds him, "You should have given the $5-million to the DNC." She says she'll check her schedule to see if she can appear.

'There's the guy from E.R.'

The delegates jockey to be photographed with her.

"She said all right," a delegate tells a friend when she consents to a photo. "Move in!"

Irvin, the delegate from Walsh, Colo., describes her as "unbelieveable, amazing. Usually, you think they don't like to be around people."

Not Brinkley.

She relishes the spotlight and is happy to tell anyone about the hazards of low-level radiation. But she interrupts her policy talk because of an apparent celebrity sighting.

"Oh, look!" she says. "There's the guy from E.R.!" But then she realizes it is not TV actor Noah Wylie, just someone who looks like him.

She resumes talking politics. She and her neighbor, actor Alec Baldwin, have been especially concerned about the effects of radiation on kids.

"In our neighborhood, we have an extremely rare cancer cluster," she says, attributing it to a nearby nuclear plant. She's been working with Jan Schlichtmann, the lawyer made famous in the book and movie A Civil Action. A reporter asks if she plans to ever run for office.

No, she says. "I'm first and foremost a mom."

The delegates are impressed. One tells her, "You're doing God's work."

- Researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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