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Photo by Hector Amezcua

The state Democratic convention kicked off Friday afternoon at the gleaming new JW Marriott hotel in Los Angeles with all the drama of a giant family reunion. The star and eccentric patriarch of this year's gathering was gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown.

Wearing a dark suit and a blue-striped dress shirt without tie, Brown roamed the hotel's halls receiving the well wishes of some of the 3,000 Democrats expected to attend.

He greeted old friends such as Kam Kuwata, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's former campaign manager, and new ones like the groups of excited young women who angled for pictures with him.

When asked by Brown for campaign advice, Kuwata's words of wisdom: "Don't f**k up."

Brown spoke briefly to four caucuses - environmental, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender, women and the California Teachers Association - and reviewed the row of campaign stands.

Brown's own campaign stand was strikingly minimal compared to those of the other candidates - little more than a flimsy banner held up with binder clips and two young men looking eager to devour the big pizza in front of them. "Is this it?" Brown asked as he approached the stand. The pair of young men straightened up in their chairs as Brown approached.

On two occasions, Brown's path crossed that of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who dropped out of the governor's race in October and is now running for lieutenant governor.

The two men mostly avoided each other except for a quick handshake in the stairwell outside the women's caucus' room.

At the women's caucus, Brown touted his controversial nomination of Rose Bird as chief justice on the state Supreme Court and other moves he said he had made to advance women. At the LGBT meeting, he pledged to continue defending same-sex marriage.

He made the biggest splash at the teachers meeting, where he denounced what he said was the overfocus on standardized tests and urged schools to go back to "the teaching of the whole person."

Carson resident Ida Taylor, who heard Brown speak at the women's caucus, said she thought female voters would support Brown over Whitman despite the Republican's gender.

"I'm a woman, but I don't vote with my womanhood," Taylor said. "I vote with my heart and head."

Amid all the frenzy, Brown found time to chat with reporters, albeit while weaving among well-wishers.

When asked about the worries of some Democrats that his campaign wasn't prepared for billionaire GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, Brown said, "I run a campaign like I run a government. I don't waste money. One has to be prudent. One has to be efficient."

He added later, "I think it looks very good ... For those who have some anxiety, I'd say work hard in the campaign and you can relieve that anxiety."

Asked about Whitman's record spending, Brown said, "You cannot have a hostile takeover of the democratic process in America."

Much of the afternoon's heat emanated from the lieutenant governor's race, with Newsom and rival candidate Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn working the crowd, sometimes within earshot of each other.

Both declined in interviews to talk about the race's nastier turns, especially Hahn consultant Garry South releasing recordings of the mayor - his client during the gubernatorial campaign - talking down the role of lieutenant governor.

"I'm focused on tomorrow and uniting Democrats in a tough race," Newsom said.

Hahn was tying her fate to Brown's, with her supporters wearing t-shirts reading "Jerry/ Janice" as if the two were running mates on a presidential ticket.

Hahn called herself and Newsom "both good progressive Democrats" but said she would help Brown's cause by drawing the support of Southern Californian and women voters.

Meanwhile, there was outsider Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Aguirre, who followed Brown from caucus to caucus yelling his demand for a debate, at one point blocking Brown's way.

Brown kept his cool, but muttered, "Noise noise noise."


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