HOLMBY HILLS, Calif. Hundreds of select members of the media partied at the Playboy Mansion Saturday as Playmates handed out drinks and Hugh Hefner railed against "hypocritical" Democrats who forced a congresswoman to move a Hispanic fund-raiser to a more politically correct location.
"I think the whole thing stinks," said Hefner, who wore a tuxedo jacket with a salmon pink shirt open about five buttons down from the collar and stood with three Playboy Bunnies at his side. "It smells like the bad old days. It's like a return to the bad old days of the Moral Majority."
The party, held as up to 16,000 accredited media gathered in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention that starts on Monday, came a day after Rep. Loretta Sanchez bowed to career-threatening pressure from the Democratic Party and agreed to move a major Hispanic fund-raiser from the politically incorrect Playboy Mansion to a more sedate location.
At least 200 members of the press Saturday were bused to the mansion where they were greeted by Playboy Bunnies who handed out drinks and hors d'oeuvres while a Dixieland jazz band played.
It was one of several parties in the area ahead of the convention that will formally nominate Vice President Al Gore as the Democrats' presidential candidate.
Hefner, founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine which features photographs of nude women, said he did not blame Gore for the storm over the venue for the Hispanic fund-raiser, but thought it could rebound against Gore.
Hefner said Sanchez was subjected to strong punishment by the Democratic Party. "They drove her to the wall. They threatened to destroy her career. She feels guilty about the whole thing."
He said he still planned to vote for Gore, but said, "Gore doesn't need this kind of trouble."
He said the pressure on Sanchez stemmed from "fear of being punished for (President ) Clinton's sex scandals" and said Democrats were overreacting. "The mansion has been the scene of dozens upon dozens of fund raisers for Democratic candidates" including former California Gov. Jerry Brown and the late Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley.
Asked whether the mansion represented family values, Hefner said, "it certainly represents my family's values. My children were raised here."
His daughter, Christie Hefner, chief executive of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said, "Playboy represents the vision of America. It's about tolerance, personal rights, freedom and fighting discrimination."
One of the women escorting Hefner was Vanessa Gleason, 20, of San Diego who was dressed in the Playboy Bunnie costume, with bunny ears, a low-cut, tight-fitting outfit and a little cotton tail.
She said she did not agree with the people who pressured Sanchez. "I work for Playboy and it's a high-class organization. I can see how more conservative-minded people and feminists may look down on it."
Pressure mounted all day on Friday on Sanchez, a two-term Democratic congresswoman, to find a more G-Rated venue for the planned fund-raising party than the Playboy Mansion, with the chairman of the Democratic party chastising her for aligning the Democrats with "the Playboy lifestyle" even though Hefner is a lifelong Democrat and party contributor.
Democratic leaders threatened to come down hard on Sanchez if she did not change the venue for the fund-raiser for a bipartisan group that encourages Hispanic voting, Hispanic Unity USA.
They said she would not be allowed to speak at the Democratic National Convention and might have her credentials revoked. They also discussed having her removed from several Party jobs.
Among the guests Saturday was columnist Arianna Huffington, Bill Mahr of HBO's "Politically Incorrect," who hosts the "Politically Incorrect" show on HBO, Bryant Gumble of CBS, and Pat Caddell, former pollster for President Jimmy Carter and now a TV personality in Los Angeles.
Also at the party were dozens of reporters, photographers and broadcast media from Washington who cover politics.
Some clamored to be photographed standing next to the Playmates.