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Sanchez Fund-Raiser Is Moved to CityWalk Site

Politics: Lawmaker will get to speak at convention after bowing to pressure not to use Playboy Mansion.


Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) on Friday backed down on plans to stage a fund-raiser next week at the Playboy Mansion, bowing to pressure from national Democratic leaders.

Sanchez will move the fund-raiser to B.B. King's Blues Club at Universal Studios' CityWalk, a decision made one day after party leaders yanked her as a speaker at the Democratic National Convention, which begins Monday in Los Angeles.

Sanchez now will be allowed to address the convention, Democratic National Committee officials said after her announcement.

Sanchez's previous refusal to relocate the Tuesday night event benefiting a political action committee she heads--even after an appeal by presumed Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore--caused an intraparty rift that delighted Republicans. It also threatened to transform her from a prominent figure within the party to an outcast at the convention.

Democratic leaders worried that having the fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion, especially on a night coinciding with the convention, would hurt their efforts to portray Gore as a candidate who cares about family values.

But even before Sanchez agreed to change the event's location, Democrats drew criticism from Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner about the way the flap was handled.

He decried Gore and party leaders as hypocrites for attacking the fund-raiser's location while in the past soliciting campaign contributions from Playboy executives.

"Hypocrisy and politics in America go hand in hand," Hefner said in an interview with The Times. "Critics sometimes suggest we are beating a dead horse in talking abut the puritanical nature of this country. But if there was ever evidence of it, here it is."

In a statement Sanchez sent to the Democratic National Committee, she said: "To continue to dwell on where our event is held . . . frankly makes no sense. The only real party I am interested in is a party that represents real people, with real needs. That party is the Democratic Party."

Sanchez announced the change of venue outside her Orange County office at a news conference broadcast live on television. She quickly made clear that she would not directly address the controversy, saying, "My mother always told me if you can't say something nice about people, don't talk about them."

Sanchez said she had not talked to anyone Friday from the DNC--whose chairman, Joe Andrew, had yanked her from the convention's speakers' list Thursday. Instead, Sanchez said she made the decision after consulting with members of her PAC, Hispanic Unity USA, which seeks to promote the political interests of Latinos.

Sanchez said her decision "in no way reflects anything other than appreciation" to Hefner and other Playboy officials she worked with on the fund-raiser.

She singled out for praise Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante for helping her find an alternative venue "with the cachet we needed."

Also playing a role was Andy Camacho, a Los Angeles businessman and Democratic fund-raiser whose holdings include two restaurants at CityWalk. Camacho said he was approached by Sanchez allies about finding a new site for the fund-raiser and helped arrange use of King's club.

Wylie Aitken, chairman of Sanchez's campaign committee, said of her decision: "It had become a distraction, and the rightness or wrongness of her decision became irrelevant."

After Sanchez's announcement, Richard Rosenzweig, executive vice president of Playboy, said: "It's a sad day in the political life of America. . . . [Democratic leaders] just exerted so much pressure on her and her staff and her supporters that she simply had to make this decision. I just wonder what will happen to the party as a result of this. It will be a very searing experience."

Campaign finance records show that the DNC and the Democratic congressional and senatorial campaign committee have accepted $50,000 from Hefner and his daughter, Christie, since 1991. Hefner's contributions to President Clinton and Gore total $9,500 for the same period.

Of that, Gore's presidential campaign received $1,500 in 1998.

Christie Hefner earlier this year hosted a party in her Chicago home for a Democratic House candidate at which one of the speakers was Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In recent weeks, Kennedy has been among the leading critics of Sanchez having the fund-raiser at the Playboy site.

Gore said Friday that the symbolism of a Democratic Party official holding a fund-raiser at the mansion and his acceptance of campaign contributions from Playboy executives is "apples and oranges."

Andrew said that, despite the contributions, "Playboy does not represent the values of our party. There's a lifestyle that the Playboy Mansion represents--and that lifestyle is not one this party supports."

Friday's announcement culminated an anxious week for Sanchez, who had been digging in her heels against finding another location despite weeks of pressure to find a site more suitable to a family values theme.

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