Gore pressuring Sanchez to cancel fund-raiser at Playboy Mansion

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. - Democratic Party officials on Thursday removed Rep. Loretta Sanchez from her speaking role at next week's party convention, hours after she refused to cancel a fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion.

Saying he was ''sorely disappointed'' in Sanchez, DNC chairman Joe Andrew said he had ''no alternative but to take action.''

''Loretta Sanchez will not be speaking at the Democratic National Convention next week,'' Andrew said in a written statement.

Under pressure from Al Gore's presidential campaign, party officials were planning to meet Aug. 18 and could take further action, including withdrawing support for her re-election and removing her from her position as a DNC general co-chair.

Mark Fabiani, spokesman for the Gore campaign, said the vice president was ''in complete support of chairman Andrew's decision.''

''The vice president's position has been clear from day one,'' that he opposed holding the fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion, Fabiani said. ''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.''

In a letter to Sanchez, Andrew said that ''as the father of young children, I tried to convey to you my dismay at the kind of message this event would send,'' saying it ''was neither appropriate nor reflective of our party's values.''

Earlier Thursday, Sanchez called a news conference outside her district office to say she respected Gore's decision not to attend the party, but wouldn't cancel it.

''We selected a high profile venue to highlight the important work of Hispanic Unity USA. The event is sold out and it will be a great success,'' said Sanchez, who read a statement and refused to answer questions.

Sanchez stressed that the event will raise money for registering, educating and empowering Hispanics, a goal she said Gore and other members of Congress support.

''I considered their concerns carefully, consulted with my board of directors, the event's host committee and others,'' said Sanchez. ''They strongly recommended that the events proceed as planned.''

Gregory Rodriguez, a Latino issues analyst at the New America Institute, a nonprofit public policy group, 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,'' Rodriguez said.

But Nelson Diaz, chairman of the DNC Hispanic Caucus, said he fully supported Andrew's decision because ''holding the event at the Playboy Mansion sends a message that is antithetical to (the) values of the Latino community and the Democratic Party.''

Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party and a Hispanic, said the party is ''not going to abandon her as a candidate'' but that the state leadership is ''saddened'' by the events.

''It does not send the right symbolic message and it just plays into the hands of the Republicans,'' Torres said.

While openly criticizing Sanchez, Gore's campaign has benefited from the Playboy's largesse as well. Hugh Hefner donated $1,000 to Gore's campaign on March 17, 1999, and Hefner's daughter, Christie, gave $500 to Gore in April of this year, Federal Election Commission records.

Republican officials accused the Gore campaign of hypocrisy.

''They may not like talking about it, but they sure do enjoy that Playboy money,'' said Jim Nicholson, Republican National Committee chairman.

The New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights on Wednesday called on Gore to use his influence to shut the party down.

The conflict over the party comes as Gore tries to highlight moral values on the campaign trail. He named Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an observant Orthodox Jew, as his running mate. Lieberman was a strong critic of President Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Gore announced several weeks ago that he would not attend the party or condone it. The party is billed as a fund-raiser for Hispanic Unity USA, which promotes voter registration among Hispanics. It is expected to draw about 600 people

Bill Farley, a spokesman for Playboy Enterprises, described the event as a bipartisan fund-raiser over which Gore should not have any influence. Farley said he could see why some religious groups would disagree with Playboy Enterprises' open support of abortion rights.

''The Playboy Mansion for a political event is not Sodom and Gomorra. It is in many respects like a five-star hotel,'' he said. ''To what lengths can one go to determine whether a physical location is appropriate.''


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