- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Dozens of gorgeous Latino actors and actresses crowded the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel's Grand Ballroom for the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts' gala Tuesday night.

One stood out as the numero uno chick magnet: Esai Morales, most recently seen as Lt. Tony Rodriguez on ABC's "NYPD Blue."

"I love this guy," Rep. Loretta Sanchez said as she gave Mr. Morales a big squeeze and kiss on the cheek. "But remember, next time return my phone call, OK?" Mrs. Sanchez said in mock admonishment.

Mr. Morales, who co-founded the organization in 1997 to promote opportunities for Latinos in the media, telecommunications and entertainment industries, promised Mrs. Sanchez he would.

The gala was one of the first large social events to take place in the District since tragedy struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 one gratified valet parking attendant said it was his first busy night at the Mayflower in two weeks.

"It's a nice change," he said.

The night before the gala, about a hundred guests attended a private party in honor of the foundation held at Democratic Party fund-raiser Esther Coopersmith's palatial Kalorama residence.

Among guests were Ecuadoran AmbassadorIvonne A-Baki, Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Abdulla Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Colombian Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno and Romanian Ambassador Sorin Dumitru Ducaro and his wife, Carmen.

As guests arrived in a torrent of wind and rain, they were greeted by Mrs. Coopersmith's daughter, Connie Coopersmith, and her dog Reggie, who had a patriotic red, blue and white bow on his head.

"He plays with Teddy Kennedy's dogs," said Mrs. Coopersmith, who remained chipper despite having to move her previously planned outdoor dinner party inside because of the weather.

"Terrorism and tornadoes Who needs it?" she said, summing up just about everyone's feelings.

Although the gala, now in its fifth year, is normally a joyous occasion, Tuesday's event was somber and somewhat restrained due to recent events. Nonetheless, there were a few festive aspects: plenty of star watching, a few fashion statements, a performance by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and more than enough fancy food and wine to go around.

The healing power of the arts and America's strength and resiliency in the face of the enemy were twin themes for speakers and guests alike.

Mr. Morales spoke about the terrorist events that affected people of so many different nationalities and ethnicities.

He said he'd heard from New York Gov. George E. Pataki that more than 1,000 Latinos died at the World Trade Center.

His also revealed his own most memorable experience at the doomed towers. When he was a 15-year-old New Yorker, he took a couple of young French tourists on a tour of the Big Apple. The crowning event was a trip up to the observation deck where one of the girls expressed her gratitude.

"I had my first international kiss," Mr. Morales said to laughter and applause.

Among other guests were Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Among the imported entertainment talent was the gorgeous Dahlia Victoria, who guest stars on WB's "Felicity" frequently. Dressed in an impossibly tight black leather dress, Miss Victoria's role was to announce foundation scholarships at the end of the evening.

Another young actor present was A.J. Lamas, son of Lorenzo and grandson of Fernando Lamas. The tall 17-year-old cutie stars in an upcoming PBS weekly series called "American Family," which also features Mr. Morales and Raquel Welch.

Another co-founder, Jimmy Smits, was unable to attend, but appeared on huge screens live from Los Angeles via satellite. He spoke about the ways in which the attacks have changed our lives, and not only for the worse.

"I feel that we've awakened to a galvanized patriotism," Mr. Smits said.

In introducing the next speaker, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Mr. Smits said, "Although I can't comment on his golf game, [I have seen him] dance a mean salsa."

Mr. Daschle spoke of the heroes who fought the flames two weeks ago, as well as those who fight racial and other intolerance.

"America is not strong despite our diversity," he said. "It is strong because of our diversity."

CapPho Photos by James R. Brantley/The Washington Times

Baywatch actor Jose Salano talks with actress Dahlia Victoria (right) as they wait for the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts dinner to start. Below: Kweisi Mfume, current head of the NAACP and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, has a few words with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Clockwise from left: Esai Morales, co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, gets a laugh from Carmen Ducaru, Romanian Ambassador Sorin Dumitru Ducaru and Esther Coopersmith. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe chats with Colombian Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno. National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts President Felix Sanchez checks last minute details with ABC News reporter Elizabeth Vargas.

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