The taming of Loretta Sanchez

The embattled congresswoman's got nothing but love for her fellow Democrats on the convention floor.

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Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., resplendent in a bright blue suit, is making her way across the convention floor. Her smile is as bright as the Los Angeles summer sun.

Her ebullience is interesting, as it’s been a tough week. Pursued by reporters and bashed by Democrats, Sanchez has been in the news as the congresswoman who planned to throw a fundraiser for her political action committee — at the Playboy Mansion.

Democratic National Committee chairman Joe Andrew told her and told her and told her to move the event to a venue more suitable for the family values Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., are trying to project as they run from President Clinton and his multi-hummered presidency. Sanchez, hoping to raise $3 million for Hispanic Unity USA, argued that only Hef’s home had the “cachet” to attract the kind of bucks she wanted. Andrew said he’d try to help her find another locale, but Sanchez didn’t budge. Andrew stripped Sanchez of her speaking role at the convention and threatened further punishment. Finally, on Friday, Sanchez announced that her fundraiser would take place at Universal Studios.

“A few” donors have now pulled out of the event, she says. “Some people wanted to go to it and see the Playboy Mansion  that’s what they had hoped to do.”

But even with her political career having balanced so precariously on the edge, even with Gore having used her as a values-challenged whipping-girl, Sister Souljah-style, Sanchez is now a star. Photographers swarm, delegates hug her and tell her they were behind her all the way.

As Nietzsche once said, “That which does not kill us can only make us stronger.” (I believe this was also the title of Bruce Willis’ second album.) Los Angeles embodies this aphorism, as does President Clinton, as does — as of now — Sanchez. And on the convention floor Monday, she’s loud and boisterous and squealy.

Reporters come over, sticking microphones and tape recorders in her face. What do you have to say about the controversy?

“Nothing!” she squeaks, girly-like. “There’s nothing to say! We’re gonna have a great event on Tuesday night! The whole Latino community pulled together! We’re gonna have a great time and America’s gonna see what being Latino is really about!”

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Were you shocked by the reaction?

“I was, actually, a little disturbed at some point about all of this brouhaha,” she admits, her voice lowering. “But the reality is we’re all fine, and we’re gonna move forward, and we’re gonna raise money and that’s what’s important. Because we need to empower people who never have voted before to get into the system.”

Who do you think was behind it all? Andrew? Vice President Al Gore?

“I don’t know, guys!” she says. “If I were really on the inside over there, then maybe I’d know, but I’ve just been working hard out here, with the people.”

After weeks and months of threats and angry phone calls, pleading and fighting and Sturm und Drang, what was the final conversation that made you change your mind?

“The conversation with [California Lt. Gov.] Cruz Bustamante, who was able to help us rearrange the venue and everything.”

Why would you have an event at the Playboy Mansion to begin with?

“The Playboy Mansion is a great venue. It’s got aaaaaall sorts of people who come and do fundraisers, not just politicians. Charities. Women’s organizations. I mean, Bill Cosby — the father of America! — has done a thing there every year! It doesn’t have the kind of connotation that most people are thinking. It’s actually a great venue for parties!”

Do you think it’s hypocritical for Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to slam having a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion while the Democratic Party accepts tens of thousands from Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, and Christie Hefner, the CEO? Or that Kennedy — just months ago — appeared at a fundraiser for a Democratic congressional candidate that was held in Christie Hefner’s Chicago penthouse?

“Patrick is a great guy, and he’s done a really great job,” Sanchez says.

No contradiction there?

“Well, I really don’t know about the contradiction, and I’m not going to speak to it, to tell you the truth,” she says, giggling.

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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