Sandra Fluke Comes Into Her Own

Though Olympia Snowe was the guest of honor at the Women's Campaign Fund event at Rockefeller Center, Sandra Fluke seemed to be the star.

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Some male politicians did show up to last night's Women's Campaign Fund reception at Christie's in Rockefeller Center, though they were solidly outnumbered by their female counterparts.

Public advocate and aspiring mayor Bill de Blasio was there, as was congressman Jerry Nadler, but so were Representative Nydia Velazquez, who's facing a tough reelection campaign, community board chair Julie Menin, who wants to run for Manhattan borough president, Councilwoman Letitia James, who's running for public advocate, and Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student Rush Limbaugh called some nasty names, and who now seems to be setting up nicely for a run for something.

Black-clad waiters circulated with glasses of white wine.

Gender notwithstanding, the event was a natural for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who showed up  to present an award to retiring Republican senator Olympia Snowe, and to speak about his favorite topic, bipartisanship, how Snowe embodies it, and how her departure reflects its demise. He also talked about contraception.

"If Congress spent more time following her example and less time in attacks on women's health, it would have a lot more respect and our nation would be a lot better off," Bloomberg said.

Noticing Nydia Velazquez in the crowd, the mayor interrupted his speech to recognize her.

"Did I miss your birthday the other day?" the mayor asked.

"That's right," said Velazquez.

"Happy birthday," said the mayor. "If I had known it earlier, then I would have sent an expensive returnable gift."

Nydia said he could make up for it with two next year.

Women's health issues have played a more dominant role than usual in the national political conversation recently, particularly in the form of a debate over Republican-led efforts to define limits on contraception coverage, culminating in Limbaugh calling Fluke a "slut."

Sam Bennett, the president of the Women's Campaign Fund who once ran for Congress herself, said in her opening remarks: "Peel back the facades of religious freedom, and budget cuts, and concern for women's health, and what do you find? A blatant determination to roll back women's rights at any cost. The root cause? A lack of women electeds from both sides of the aisle, at all levels of of government, to push back on the frat-house lunacy of a male-dominated American political system."

Representative Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn, in a sky-blue pantsuit, cheered loudly.

Bennett wore her blond hair in a crisp, Anna Wintour cut above a bright yellow blazer. She moderated the reception from a podium next to a giant, black-and-white pixelated photo of Marilyn Monroe hamming for the camera. Upon closer inspection, the pixels were actually tiny headshots of John F. Kennedy Jr.

Though Snowe was the guest of honor at the event, Fluke seemed to be the star.

Bennett went on to introduce what she described as the fund's signature performance piece, "Voices from the Ladder," during which Fluke spoke.

And then, following an auction for a handbag painted by pop artist Peter Max (which sold for a disappointing $1,200), Fluke was given something called a "Name It. Change It. Champion" award. And then she spoke again, about the prevalence of misogynistic language, and about Limbaugh, and about how women would not be silenced.

"Our sons must grow up seeing women walking the halls of Congress," she said, displaying the same ease in front of an audience as she did during the extended round of interviews she granted in reaction to Limbaugh's attack on her. "Because then they will know that if you want to call a woman a name, you have three options: congresswoman, senator, or Ms. President."

When she finished, and after the cheers had begun to die down, Bennett asked, "So, what do you say guys, maybe the youngest-ever elected U.S. senator in American history?"

Fluke waved away the ensuing applause, smiling.

And then, from the woman who is just coming on to the political scene, attention was given over to the one who is leaving.

Snowe, the famously moderate Republican senator from Maine who announced her retirement in February, citing excessive partisanship, spoke about her early years in Congress in an effort to underscore how much women's political rights have improved since she took office in the late 1970s.

"There was a time in America when husbands cancelled their pensions on their spouses without their knowing, only learning about it upon their death," said Snowe.

But the progress wasn't universal, she said.

"And now it comes to contraceptive coverage," said Snowe. "You know, it really is surprising, because I feel like it's a retro debate. It took place in the 1950s. It's sort of back to the future, isn't it? And it is surprising in the 21st century that we would be revisiting this issue."

Snowe urged the women in the room to "keep the fight up." She posed for a group photo and then yielded the stage back to Bennett, who led the remaining women in a pledge in order to "remind each other of the changes we're about to make in the world."

She urged everyone to lift up their right hands, three fingers extended, like a scout.

"Repeat after me. I promise…"

I promise

"to nominate"

To nominate

"at least one woman to run for office a year to I also promise to write every woman I meet who's running for office that shares my values a five-dollar check. Or more. I also promise to report political sexism whenever it happens to On my honor I do so swear."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.