- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

Democratic officials Thursday night stripped Rep. Loretta Sanchez of her speaking role at next week's Democratic convention because she defied Vice President Al Gore's order to cancel a fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion.
Mr. Gore, who has adopted a moralistic tone since picking Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman as his running mate this week, is mulling whether to further punish his one-time protegee today.
Under orders from the vice president, Democratic officials are meeting Friday to decide whether to suspend support for Mrs. Sanchez's re-election bid and revoke the prestigious title Mr. Gore had personally bestowed on her vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
"Loretta Sanchez will not be speaking at the Democratic National Convention next week," DNC Chairman Joe Andrew said in a written statement issued Thursday night. He said he was "sorely disappointed" in the congresswoman and had "no alternative but to take action."
Mr. Gore was "in complete support of Chairman Andrew's decision," Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani told the Associated Press. "We're sorry this has not been resolved. We bent over backwards to find other locations and we've just reached the end of line."
Hours before being stripped of her speaking role, which had been scheduled for next Thursday, Mrs. Sanchez publicly defied the vice president by refusing his staff's entreaties to find a more suitable venue for the fund-raiser.
"I considered their concerns carefully," Mrs. Sanchez said of Gore officials. But "my board of directors, the event's host committee and others … strongly recommended that the events proceed as planned."
It was a stunning fall from grace for the Hispanic woman who had been considered a rising star in the Democratic Party since unseating archconservative Robert K. Dornan in 1996. Mr. Gore had personally nurtured Mrs. Sanchez's career with advice, money and clout.
It was also the first indication of how determined the scandal-plagued vice president has become to seize the moral high ground since picking Mr. Lieberman, an overtly religious moral crusader best known for railing against excessive sexuality in Hollywood and the White House.
Before enlisting the Connecticut senator, Mr. Gore for weeks had been content to distance himself from the fund-raiser without calling for its cancellation.
But with President Clinton rehashing the Monica Lewinsky scandal yet again Thursday, Mr. Gore appeared to reach for his own "Sister Souljah" moment, a bid to break with the excesses of his own party. Mr. Clinton made such a move in 1992 by denouncing Sister Souljah, a rap singer who called for the killing of white people.
Mr. Gore's extraordinary rebuke of Mrs. Sanchez comes just days before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and one week after the conclusion of the Republican convention, which was hailed as a model of unity and harmony. It also came three days after Mr. Gore tapped Mr. Lieberman.
"Gee, isn't this a coincidence that Lieberman was just appointed as his running mate and all of a sudden there's this extreme fundamentalism," said Playboy Vice President Cindy Rakowitz.
"Anybody that has any insight on politics wouldn't be surprised, particularly people in Hollywood who know Lieberman's history," she added. "Lieberman has always been very, very outspoken about cracking down on sex and violence in the entertainment industry."
Last month, Playboy officials expressed sympathy for Mr. Gore's need to distance himself from the fund-raiser. But now that he has punished Mrs. Sanchez, Playboy is taking a harder line toward the vice president.
"This is something that we would expect from Pat Robertson," said Miss Rakowitz, comparing Mr. Gore to the influential Christian conservative. "This is something that we would expect from somebody who's very, very conservative right. That's why we're saddened and surprised."
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane defended the Gore-Lieberman team's tough new stance.
"Senator Lieberman has impeccable credentials and we're very proud to have him on our ticket," Mr. Lehane told The Washington Times. "I think if you look at both men Al Gore and Joe Lieberman they're both people who have lived their lives where, time and time again, faced with decisions, they made the right choices."
Asked whether Mr. Gore would return thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and CEO Christie Hefner, Mr. Lehane said: "The contributions came in from individual donors. It was not done in the capacity of an event at the Playboy Mansion, which I think is a major distinction."
Tuesday's fund-raiser will be held as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, will speak at the nearby convention. Mr. Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, earlier denounced the fund-raiser.
"We selected a high profile venue to highlight the important work of Hispanic Unity USA," she said yesterday of her political action committee. "The event is sold out and it will be a great success."
Mrs. Sanchez emphasized that the event will raise money for registering and educating Latinos, a goal she said Mr. Gore shares. Mrs. Sanchez sold all 600 tickets for $5,000 apiece.
She read her remarks from a prepared statement outside her district office in Garden Grove, Calif. She refused to answer questions from reporters.
Gregory Rodriguez, a Hispanic issues analyst at the New America Institute, said Democrats were taking a risk by "coming down on a woman that they themselves made an icon of Hispanic political empowerment."
"It seems to say that Hispanics, despite their numbers and despite the critical role everyone thinks they'll play in the election, are not as indispensable to the Democratic coalition as we're being led to believe," Mr. Rodriguez told AP.
Miss Rakowitz said Mr. Lieberman would "of course be welcome" at the party, which will also be attended by Mr. Hefner, 74, and three of his four girlfriends, all of whom are in their mid-20s.
"It will be very high class," she said. "We have first rate entertainment and service. You won't even have to wait for a drink. It will be put in your hand.
"You know, Playboy stands for a lot of things and one of them is of course the sexual revolution. But if you came to a party at Playboy, I assure you that you would leave there not being embarrassed or guilty.
"Believe me, if you wanted to be embarrassed or guilty, I could get you into those parties, too," she said. "But in terms of class of the event, the only difference between a party at the mansion and a party at the White House is that you got Hef walking around."
Miss Rakowitz said Mr. Gore should have stayed with his previous position of simply declining an invitation to the party.
"If he had left it at that, it would have been the most appropriate to separate himself from it," she said. "That way, no one could make fun of him by making bunny jokes.
"But now he's gone too far. It's really just sad, but I think he's being very, very harsh.
"Playboy has always been very supportive of the Democratic Party," she concluded. "We just want to say and this comes from Hef and Christie that we support Loretta, whatever she wants to do."

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