Mr. Bono goes to Washington

Mr. Bono goes to Washington

Lynn Rosellini

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Sonny Bono’s first day in the nation’s capital was even more exciting than he had hoped. At 1:30 p.m., an aide gave him a laminated card with his picture in black and white. “What’s this?” he asked. “Congressional ID,” the aide replied. Bono gazed at the badge. “That’s cool!” He turned it over. “`Member-elect, 104th Congress,'” he read aloud, then smiled and clipped the card to his lapel. “These things excite me more than anything!”

In a town of cynics and schemers, last week’s arrival from California of congressman-elect Bono came as a bit of a jolt. Padding through the halls of a House office building for freshman orientation, the aging pop star guilelessly expressed his delight at being in “the heartbeat of the world” and seemed undaunted by the trailing retinue of reporters, many of whom hoped to pounce on one of the miscues for which he has become famous. In person, Bono, at 59, is a slight, quiet man with the neat mustache and wire-rimmed glasses of an accountant. Sipping coffee at a breakfast for new members, he was overshadowed by his statuesque wife, Mary, and outtalked by chattier freshmen, who kept approaching to shake his hand. Though his smile was broad, he seemed awkward at chitchat. “Well,” he told a new colleague from Iowa, “it’s exciting to be here.”

But away from the crowd, he was more verbose about his emotions. “Those kinds of feelings are really indescribable,” he said during a lunch break, gazing out a window at the gleaming white Capitol dome. “To know that soon I’ll be on the floor, passing laws for society and the survival of society- it’s staggering.”

Sound-bite shy. Aides had hoped the Washington trip would help the conservative Republican shed the lightweight image that has plagued him since his run for mayor of Palm Springs in 1988. Mary Bono, a likable woman 28 years his junior, bemoaned the fact that his role as Cher’s bone-headed foil in the old “Sonny and Cher Show” left the public ill-prepared to accept her husband’s new statesmanlike demeanor. “If he had been Charlton Heston playing Moses,” she said, “he would have had an easier time.” Even Bono has trouble with his new image. He has yet, for instance, to master the sharp, pithy sound bite. Asked whether troops should be withdrawn from Haiti, he said no: “If they are doing some good and are maintaining some order there and can put order-get everything in order-then that’s great.”

Still, if the worst that can be said about the new congressman from the desert country is that he’s inexperienced, occasionally inarticulate and unsophisticated, that may be an improvement over some of his peers. In a community of polished but duplicitous connivers, Sonny Bono-he of the erstwhile bobcat vests and rhinestone jump suits-seems straightforward, well-meaning and unaffected. These days, that’s a good starting point for a lawmaker.

SALVATORE PHILIP BONO. Born: Feb. 16, 1935, in Detroit. Education: Quit school at 16. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Republican. Marriages: Four. Jobs: Waiter, delivery boy, truck driver. Began writing songs in 1950s, sang with second wife in Sonny and Cher duo, 1964-74. Biggest hits: “I Got You, Babe,” “And the Beat Goes On.” Political career: Mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., 1988-92. Elected to Congress, 1994.

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