Sanchez Gala: Tears Among the Cheers

For the Congresswoman from Orange County, controversial fundraiser is a bittersweet lesson in hardball politics

By Julie Amparano
Published on LatinoLA: August 24, 2000

Sanchez Gala: Tears Among the Cheers

All night long the guests streamed into B.B. King's Blues Club, offering condolences and congratulations.

It was too much for Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who dabbled away the tears that threatened to ruin her glitter-sprinkled cheeks.

"It's just so good to have so many people here who support me," confessed Sanchez, as she stood on the club's patio looking elegant in a clingy, plunging black evening dress with a brooch clamped at the bosom. "It's overwhelming."

Overwhelming may be an understatement. It's been a rough few weeks for Sanchez. Still the California congresswoman managed to pull off her fund-raising gala for Hispanic Unity USA.

Originally scheduled to be held at the Playboy Mansion, the party location drew the ire of top Democratic leaders who argued that the site was too controversial and demanded that the venue be changed. When Sanchez refused, party officials canceled her convention speaker's slot and threatened to remove her as Democratic National Convention co-chair.

In the end, she relented -- then declined the Democrats' re-invitation to speak at the convention.

"It's just awful," said James Marjil Casso, an attorney from West Covina, who had just finished offering Sanchez an embrace and his support. He called the Democratic party leaders' actions "an immature tirade."

Casso was among the 600 or so people who squeezed into the two-story nightclub that night -- mainly to pay tribute to Sanchez, but also to help raise money for Hispanic Unity USA. The political action committee raises money to finance Latino candidates and holds voter registration drives.

At times, however, the gala was anything but gay. Even as drinks with names like "The Election" flowed freely and a band called Agua Caliente (Hot Water) played jazz, blues and salsa, the benefit sometimes resembled a wake of sorts as one guest after another comforted Sanchez.

"She looks great, doesn't she? And she's doing great," a guest whispered to another as they stood on the patio watching Sanchez receive one guest after another. "For a while there, I thought she was going to really tear up."

J. Carlos McCormick was angry about the way the ordeal was handled by party officials. The Phoenix financial consultant fumed that party officials knew early on about Sanchez's plans to host the fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion but only opposed the venue after Republican criticism surfaced. A Democratic spokesman contends that they'd asked her to move the party at least two months ago, but she refused.

The irony, said McCormick, is that the benefit will not only help Latinos get elected, but "this fund-raiser is going to help Al Gore get elected." With those words, he strutted into the club, where the mood was less somber. Many danced to Latin beats, snacked on stuffed mushrooms, chicken wings and quesadillas.

The attire was cool California. Women paraded in slinky sarongs, baring their midriffs, or in tube tops that exposed their shoulders. Many men wore suits with pullover shirts. And the crowd was Democratic white, with a noticeably modest Latino quotient.

At the end of the night, when the tissues were tossed away and the crowd was herded home, the Hispanic Unity USA gala was declared a success. The event brought in $500,000, though Sanchez lost $100,000 in deposits by changing locations at the last minute.

Now that's something to cry about.

About Julie Amparano:
Originally published on PoliticoMagazine,com. Julie Amparano is managing editor. E-mail the writer at (c) Politico Media Enterprises

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