• U.S.

Who Knew? The Lady Is a Dancin’ Machine

4 minute read
Joel Stein/Miami

My greatest fear is being the biggest dork at the Janet Reno Dance Party. I have never been anywhere in South Beach where I was not the least cool person in the room, and Level, where Reno is throwing a Friday-night fund raiser, is one of the hottest clubs in Miami. Being the No. 1 loser at a party for Janet Reno–the former U.S. Attorney General, current Florida gubernatorial candidate and perennial icon of dork style–could set my self-confidence back to junior high levels.

Reno is having the dance party for many reasons, several having to do with postmodernism, the triumph of irony and the melding of Hollywood and Washington. But the biggest reason is that she trails incumbent Jeb Bush 37% to 53%. Plus, the Florida Democratic establishment wants nothing to do with her. With so little to lose, she figures, why not impersonate Will Ferrell’s impersonation of her on Saturday Night Live? The people on the Bush team are either so confident or so pressed for social outlets that four of them are coming to the party.

I don’t know if you’ve ever fantasized about living out an old Saturday Night Live sketch with a bunch of hard-core Democrats, but there are 2,200 people who have–and they’ve paid $25 a head to do it. The good news is that these are 2,200 people who make me look like the young John Travolta. These are the people you see on convention floors, who are referred to as the party “faithful,” which I suspect is code for “loser.” They shake JANET RENO FOR GOVERNOR signs more than their booties. Never having been at a club where I felt at all cool, I use the opportunity to approach five women in half shirts and low-slung jeans and buy them Absolut and Red Bulls. I ask Nicole Gaviria, 32, of the shortest half shirt and lowest jeans, why she came. “We thought it was Janet Jackson,” she explains. “Basically, we were talking about doing something in South Beach besides getting drunk.”

I set out to ruin that dream, buying them round after round. By the time the music stops and a Reno campaign ad comes on the giant video screens, putting a bit of a damper on the already struggling atmosphere, my new friends have climbed onto a huge plastic stage, where they gyrate to the ad. When Reno finally hits the stage, the newly converted Nicole is screaming, “Reno rocks!” over and over, so I miss a lot of the speech, but it seems to have something to do with wanting to improve the state of Florida.

Reno leaves, but before I know it, she has returned to the stage, where she does a kind of stand-still-and-clap thing that makes Al Gore seem like Jackie Wilson. Oddly enough, she isn’t doing a particularly good impersonation of Will Ferrell’s impersonation of her. I leave my friends behind and rush the stage to try to dance with Reno, only to find myself in a small crowd of men living the same fantasy. When I finally push my way past them, she is gone.

After five minutes of clapping and wind-up-toy arm swings, Reno has left the stage to give a press conference upstairs. She faces one of the largest press gatherings, by far, of her campaign. “At some point,” Reno says, “the beat became so pronounced it made you dance.” The woman naturally talks in James Brown lyrics.

Elaine Lancaster, the 6-ft. 2-in. drag queen who is the hostess of the club, says she approves of Reno’s moves. “Tonight she looks great in black,” she says of Reno’s suit skirt. “It’s all about fashion.” Reno’s younger sister Maggy Hurchalla is equally impressed. “She can make her feet move. I just pretend,” she says. “Jeb can probably dance better than Janey and I can. He’s conventional.”

Conventional is what the four high school kids protesting outside the club want. One of them, Fred Moffat, 17, holds a sign that says, THAT’S NOT A WOMAN, IT’S A MAN, BABY! His friends are equally passionate in their anti-Reno sentiments, except possibly the one with a sign that says, HONK IF YOU LIKE COOKIES. “I’ve hated her ever since the Elian case,” says Moffat, who skateboarded here. “But I think it’s good she can poke fun at herself. The SNL thing was hilarious.” Dancing, especially really bad dancing, really does bring the world together.

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