Eva Longoria embraces political clout

The surprising ascent from Wisteria Lane housewife to White House insider

Forget Barack Obama.

This inauguration isn't about him. It's all about Eva Longoria.

Of the five Desperate Housewives who might have turned into political power brokers, I would have bet last on Gaby.

Susan maybe, with her bright smile and loyalty to friends. Or Bree, who in the TV series' finale does, in fact, take her steely elegance into the political arena. Or Lynette, the brainy housewife with the corporate credentials and the itch of ambition. Or Renee, who could bring the entire House of Representatives to its knees with a crack of her verbal whip.

But narcissistic Gaby?

In her last scene of the series, as I recall, Gaby was romping in a California hot tub with a flute of champagne, the kind of behavior likelier to get you booted out of politics than welcomed into it.

Eva Longoria's life lately, however, reminds us that actors are not their characters, and her rise to political prominence has never been as obvious as it will be in the next few days.

Look at the inauguration schedule, which is how I registered her political ascent.

There's her name on the e-vite to one of the inauguration's hottest parties, a Monday late-night event, captained by Rahm Emanuel, that is described as a "Chicago-style after-hours." The only host name bigger than hers on the invitation is our mayor's.

She was listed as the headliner, along with Chelsea Clinton, for Obama's Service Summit on Saturday.

And Sunday? Party down at the Kennedy Center at a Latino cultural event whose most-mentioned host is the inexhaustible, ubiquitous, inauguration co-chair Eva Longoria.

Like many people, I hadn't noticed Longoria's segue into politics until the Democratic National Convention, when she walked onto the stage in a sleek, sleeveless blue dress and gave a speech that set my Facebook feed on fire.

Status update after status update burbled with admiring surprise — she's feisty! she's smart! she looks tastefully fabulous! — and quoted her most quotable line:

"The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy's flipping burgers — she needed a tax break. But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not."

Was she just an actor playing a part? If so, she played it perfectly.

It's tempting to belittle Longoria as this season's political it girl, just another celebrity looking for a cause. But she deserves to be taken more seriously than that.

Last month, a Washington Post story described the "largely overlooked" new political fundraising power of wealthy Latinos, focusing on the Futuro Fund, which Longoria helped organize with a Texas business owner and a Puerto Rican lawyer.

As the story explained, during the presidential campaign, Longoria and the two men flew to Obama headquarters in Chicago and made their pitch: Give them a staffer and a little of Obama's time and they could raise some money from Hispanics, who aren't generally prolific campaign donors. The Futuro Fund brought in more than $30 million for Obama.

In the meantime, Longoria founded her own foundation to help Latinas get educated and start businesses. She also announced plans to open a steakhouse for women.

Even now, of course, the Eva Longoria we hear more about is the one with the antic love life, the hot bod and the to-die-for clothes. Some recent headlines:¿

Eva Longoria Dumps Boyfriend and Removes Ex-Husband Tattoo

Eva Longoria's New Year's Day Hangover

Eva Longoria Suffers Wardrobe Malfunction at Golden Globes After-Party

But Longoria is clearly more than that, and while celebrities who use their status for political purposes can be annoying, it's intriguing to watch her evolve. To see a woman find her voice and learn to use her position for public good — thumbs-up to that show.

And if she can still, as one blog said recently, "get her swerve on" with her gal pals on New Year's Eve, more power to her.

By the way, I did try to reach Longoria for this column, hoping to ask about her transition from mere celebrity to political mover and shaker and how her rise reflects the rise of Latino power. I had no luck, but if I had I also would have asked her this:

What is a "Chicago-style after-hours" party anyway?

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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