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You can tell that a new election cycle really has begun in Hollywood when the town’s leading political activists find the season’s new star. Barack Obama was the man of the hour four years ago, and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren was last election’s “it girl.”
And, as local fundraising begins in earnest for the coming midterms, it looks like Hollywood has found its new “it guy” in Cory Booker, the ultra-telegenic, social media-savvy young mayor of Newark, who hopes to capture the New Jersey senate seat veteran Frank Lautenberg is vacating.
STORY: Carole King to Headline Hollywood Fundraiser for Massachusetts Senate Candidate Ed Markey
On April 25, a glittering who’s who of Hollywood Democrats, and even a sprinkling of industry Republicans, will contribute $5,000 apiece to attend an “evening in support of Cory Booker for Senate” at the Beverly Hills mansion of producer and former United Artists CEO Jerry Weintraub and his longtime girlfriend, producer Susan Elkins.
The list of co-hosts takes up most of the invite. Among the studio execs: Disney head Bob Iger; DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and wife Marilyn; Sony CEO Michael Lynton and wife Jamie, a leader in the local school-reform movement; Barry Meyer and Kevin Tsujihara, the respective outgoing and incoming CEOs of Warner Bros.; Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. Television Group; HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo and partner Sony Ward; and Sean Bailey, Disney’s president of motion picture production.
Among the directors and their spouses backing Booker: Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw; Rob Reiner and wife Michelle; and J.J. Abrams and wife Katie McGrath, a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy. (Abrams’ production partner Damon Lindelof — who has written or produced many of Abrams’ TV shows and movies — is also attending.)
Actors on the list include Gangster Squad’s Troy Garity and Bruce Willis, long considered a Hollywood Republican.
Other industry heavyweights co-hosting the event: media mogul Terry Semel, an independent who generally supports Republicans; HBO’s James Costos and his partner, star interior designer Michael Smith; CAA super-agents Kevin Huvane and Bryan Lourd; Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos and wife Nicole Avant, Obama’s former ambassador to the Bahamas.
Will Smith‘s longtime producer James Lassiter and wife Mai are onboard. So are entertainment-industry financier/producer Steve Bing, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, producer Jay Froberg and Atom Factor CEO Troy Carter, who manages Lady Gaga.
Longtime political operatives set to attend include ex-San Francisco mayor and legendary state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, L.A. Democratic fundraising stalwart Yolanda Parker, and Hollywood’s high-profile political consultant Andy Spahn.
Booker’s supporters also include a number of notable entrepreneurs and investors. Among them: Discovery Land Company CEO Michael Meldman (who appeared in Oceans 13 as himself and recently teamed up with George Clooney to launch Casamigos tequila); Aurora Capital Chairman Gerald L. Parsky, whose ties to the GOP date back to the Nixon White House, when he worked as an assistant to US Treasury Secretary George Shultz, and who was also a close friend of the Bush family and served as an adviser to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; and Richard Sandler, executive vice president and a trustee of the Milken Family Foundation.
According to a Booker spokesperson, Oaktree Capital’s billionaire founders Bruce Karsh and Howard Marks, whose names appeared as co-hosts on an earlier invite, are attending the event as supporters, along with wives Nancy and Martha. Karsh and Marks — whose firm owns the largest share in the Tribune Company — were strong backers of Obama during the last presidential election. (Some people in town are wondering if they’ll support selling the Tribune newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, to the conservative Koch brothers, who are reportedly considering a possible bid, sources say. It could make for interesting cocktail conversation.)
As for the event’s host, Jerry Weintraub, he is a longtime Republican. He recently teamed up with HBO to produce 41, an in-depth look at the life of his friend George H.W. Bush.
Veteran Democratic political consultant Bill Carrick tells The Hollywood Reporter that he’s not surprised that Booker, 43, is drawing support from industry Democrats and Republicans.
“Mayors tend to have less ideological and more non-partisan profiles,” Carrick said. “That’s part of it. He’s also seen as a guy with a tough job as mayor of Newark who has done remarkable things. That’s what people are reacting to. He’s a real up-and-comer with potential for a major political career.”
STORY: Newark Mayor Cory Booker Thinks ‘Lincoln’ Should Win Every Oscar
Booker, whose successful fight to reduce Newark’s notoriously high crime rate was the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary in 2005, already has a kind of Hollywood base of his own as the subject/star of the Sundance Channel’s urban reality show Brick City.
More important, perhaps, he has the kind of life story that energizes an entertainment industry whose lifeblood is good stories: a successful academic and football career at Stanford, a coveted Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, followed by Yale Law School. As mayor of Newark, he once undertook a 10-day hunger strike to draw attention to rampant drug dealing in a crime-ridden neighborhood and once lived on a $30-a-day “food-stamp budget” to increase awareness of hunger. He sustained second-degree burns on his hands and arms when he stopped his car on a Newark street and rushed into a burning house to rescue a trapped woman.
“Cory has done remarkable work as Mayor of Newark,” said Spahn. “He is a true public servant and a charismatic leader who knows how to get things done.”
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