The Comeback Kid Does South Beach

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Lazes chuckled: "Oh, he gets a good table anyway."

It was easy to spot the winners inside Level. Zeller looked pumped, perhaps gearing up for yet another power grab within the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. Moreover, with Florida's Democrats revving up to unseat Jeb Bush in the upcoming fall race for governor, the afternoon had all the hallmarks of an anti-GOP rally. United Teachers of Dade's Pat Tornillo and Painters Union's Seth Sklarey worked the room, glad-handed by a slew of party loyalists and aspiring candidates.

Conspicuously absent was Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer, who, despite being a Democrat, received an election endorsement from Jeb Bush last November. Dermer's defeated opponent (also a Democrat), former state Rep. Elaine Bloom, occupied a seat front and center of Clinton.

Amid all this glitz and politicking, it's unclear if the actual kids who make up Zeller's Kids in Dade were anything more than useful props. Although Kelly said afterward he expected the benefit to raise some $75,000, that claim seems highly inflated. A look at a carefully annotated list of the afternoon's attendees revealed that roughly half had received complimentary tickets. And even several of those who did pay their way in found themselves upgraded to pricier seats in an effort to fill the otherwise half-empty $10,000 tables.

There were no glitter balls on display at the WIZO gathering, and even fewer shabbily dressed political hacks. Instead an elegant black-tie crowd of some 450 spread out on the lush Vizcaya-fashioned Pine Tree Drive estate of perfume magnates Luis and Norma Quintero. After a private cocktail reception in a side room, where $2000 granted one a personal photo alongside Clinton, the entire audience took their seats under an open-air tent. Clinton then delivered a tour de force 40-minute address on the war in Afghanistan, peace in the Middle East, and Black Hawk Down.

"I walked through a lot of blood when I was president," Clinton summed up as the crowd listened raptly, but such is the continuing price of living "in a world without walls." Cue the applause: At least where Clinton is concerned, all seemed forgiven.

By 11:00 p.m. the last stragglers were walking to the valet; Luis Quintero stood on his patio entertaining developer Michael Dezer's children with his Sixties' tales of catching Dylan and Hendrix in Greenwich Village. Turning to Kulchur he projected the air of a deeply satisfied man. As for Gerry Kelly's poaching of Clinton, "It bothered me briefly," he said dryly. "We were worried all their advertising would hurt our event." But given how well the WIZO dinner had gone, Quintero preferred to focus on the "greater good" being done. "I'm a Republican," he continued -- and a goy to boot -- "but Clinton's still one of the best presidents we've ever had." Not that he necessarily supported Clinton's positions. "It's difficult to go against success," he offered with a grin, and though he was addressing the Clinton-era economic boom, the adage applied just as aptly to the evening's till.

Indeed that would seem to be the lesson of the entire day. Of all the characters in this little drama, the only figure who could be accused of actually breaking the law is Bill Clinton, by breaching his WIZO contract and appearing at Level. Yet like his earlier missteps, whether sexual peccadilloes or controversy-shrouded pardons, the self-described "comeback kid" looks set to walk away from this affair unscathed. As one WIZO staffer scoffed to Kulchur, "What are we going to do? Sue Clinton?"

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Brett Sokol
Contact: Brett Sokol