The Big Easy From La. In L.A.

Democratic National Convention, Mardi Gras Goes Hollywood, Sen. John Breaux (D-Louisiana)
Under a dangerously full moon, more than 1500 Democratic convention goers enjoyed the party of the week Tuesday night on a Paramount Studios lot where street scenes are shot for Ally McBeal and NYPD Blue.

With the Hispanic Unity fundraiser moved out of the Playboy Mansion, "Mardi Gras Goes Hollywood" became the most talked-about party of convention week in Los Angeles - and it delivered.

He's no Miss November, but the night's honoree Louisiana Senator John Breaux cut quite a figure in his colorful garb, which included orange taffeta.

Hundreds of delegates, party operatives and corporate hosts stood on the brownstone-lined "streets" of Stage 14, Hurricanes - the signature drink of a notorious Bourbon Street bar - in hand, leaping for beads and doubloons thrown from real Mardi Gras floats by Breaux and costumed friends, while New Orleans marching band The Storyville Stompers played Call Me Al in honor of the Democrats' presidential standard-bearer.

Louisianan Rob Roy, who now lives in California, said, "This is about as authentic as you can get without going down there."

"The protesters shut down the Blue Dog party. The fire marshals shut down the DCCC party. Nothing will stop this party!" said Peter Giangreco, a Chicago Democratic consultant who predicted the bash will finish "numero uno" among convention week parties.

Even if other parties attract more political celebrities, or more expensive entertainment than Mardi Gras swingers Big Voodoo Daddy, it will be hard to beat the food at the Breaux party.

Thanks to the generosity of sponsors including AT&T, SBC Communications, BellSouth and Edison Electric Institute, all four of whom have given more than a quarter million dollars of soft money to Democrats this election cycle, revelers grazed on shrimp boil, flank steak, grilled sausage, and Munny Bay oysters with Tabasco, always Tabasco.

The line was long at the Louisiana Libations stand where revelers stood under a phony traffic light, across the street from a phony Metro station. There were stilt walkers and jugglers, and after several Hurricanes had been served, there was amateur juggling too.

Herschel L. Abbott, Jr. of New Orleans, a fun-loving officer of BellSouth, one of the evening's major corporate sponsors, was drafted by Breaux to be King of Mardi Gras.

He took a stab at our essay question, "What does all of this have to do with democracy?"

"The concept of Mardi Gras is the greatest free party on Earth," Abbott said. "It really is a time when you celebrate the freedoms we have in this country. So I think it's a perfect way at an American convention to really celebrate our freedom."

This from a man with a riding crop tucked into his boot, and a six-foot wide green feather headdress.

"It's freedom of expression," tried a sweaty Giangreco, who had a mask on his head. "I mean, this is a religion for Breaux, so it's freedom oreligion. Freedom of speech. Freedom of assembly. It's all about the First Amendment!"

Only the sensible Phoebe Bollin, executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, seemed to understand the question: "The sponsors, like reporters, have a dirty job," she observed, "but somebody's got to do it!"

Cocktailing with a colleague in front of the decadent dessert spread while Big Bad Voodoo Daddy sang Go Daddy-O!, Bollin looked around and said, "This is not part of the political process in Wyoming."

An hour after Ted Kennedy spoke to the convention about his careerlong struggle for universal health care, reveler Barry Hakim, a 33-year-old naturalized citizen from Iran, asked, "I don't understand, what is the relationship [to the political process]? It's just fun. It doesn't have any depth in it. It's like these are other people's issues - tax, minimum wage, health care problems, people hungry. But here, it's just a party. I don't see the point."

That said, he was looking for tickets to the Sony party.