State of Their Unions

updated 04/10/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/10/1995 01:00AM

"Glamorous" and "government" seldom go together—except, of course, when they're going together. Which, in otherwise buttoned-down Washington, seems to be happening more and more frequently. In the grand tradition of Elizabeth Taylor and Sen. John Warner, Debra Winger and Sen. Bob Kerrey and, okay, Bianca Jagger and Congressman Robert Torricelli, here's a look at three politician-celebrity romances that, like the capital's celebrated cherry blossoms, are in full bloom this spring.

Sen. Alfonse D'Amato & TV's Claudia Cohen

She calls the pugnacious senator from New York "a great big pussycat." He calls the vivacious gossip reporter on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee "my Cinderella." He has been spotted licking her nose on the dance floor of a Palm Beach, Fla., nightclub. She has been seen caressing his thigh at a Manhattan restaurant. "They were acting like 16-year-olds," a nearby diner observed disapprovingly to New York magazine.

Few teenagers, though, hold a press conference to proclaim their love as did Claudia Cohen, the 44-year-old ex-wife of Revlon mogul Ron Perelman, and Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, 57. "Claudia and I are here to tell you," D'Amato informed the Manhattan media on Feb. 21, "that this is a serious relationship with two mature people." Then, as if to demonstrate its seriousness, if not his maturity, the senator broke into a few bars of "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie."

The couple met on Dec. 28 at a Palm Beach dinner party. "She was totally refreshing," D'Amato says. The next evening he ran into Cohen dining out with her parents and became, he says, totally smitten: "I kind of relate to that. One of the great times I have is having dinner with my mom and pop." Cohen and D'Amato had their first date the next night, and since then she has accompanied him to Republican fund-raisers, and he has escorted her to charity galas.

Marriage, they say, is definitely in their future, even though Cohen is a registered Democrat. "Al has my vote from now on!" she declares. Less easily overcome is the fact that D'Amato has been married since 1960 to college math teacher Penny D'Amato, from whom he has been separated for the past 13 years. The Roman Catholic D'Amato has suggested that he will seek an annulment, since the Church does not recognize divorce. "I hope that my church," he said, "would understand that it's natural for me to want to marry the woman I love."
Less understanding is Penny D'Amato. Observing that an annulment would render their two daughters and two sons illegitimate in the eyes of the Church, she said, "Maybe you ought to ask his bastard children about it."

Meanwhile, Washington will watch, wait—and comment. Last week the D.C. semiweekly Roll Call ran a mock ad for a faux romance novel called Forever Alfonse. The book's cover shows D'Ama-to—bare-chested and with Fabio-esque locks—ravishing a supine Cohen. "Theirs Was a Love So Strong," the ad copy says, "No Democratic Institution Could Contain It." D'Amato puts the situation a bit less breathlessly. "Claudia," he says, "makes me feel special."

Rep. Kweisi Mfume & actress Lynn Whitfield

In the seven months that Lynn Whitfield, 40, has been seeing Democratic Congressman Kweise Mfume, 46, of Baltimore, she has learned one crucial thing about dating a politician: always wear comfortable shoes. In September, Mfume invited Whitfield—who plays physical therapist Barbara Lorenz in NBC's The Cosby Mysteries—to a Congressional Black Caucus reception. He neglected to tell her that the event was being held in his honor, as the caucus's outgoing chairman. Says Whitfield: "We spent 2 hours standing on the receiving line without being able to move."

Mfume admires Whitfield for much more than her sturdy arches. "She's a brilliant thinker," he says. "We get into deep conversations about the world." They also, adds Whitfield, "laugh a lot, though most of the time we seem like two very serious sticks-in-the-mud."

Indeed, the two met in February 1994 at an Atlanta awards gala, but it was six months before they had their first date, at a romantic restaurant in Manhattan, where Whitfield now lives. These days they try to see each other most weekends, but neither is in any rush to wed. Mfume has five sons, all in their 20s, by four different women, but has made only one walk down the aisle, while Whitfield, mother of a 4-year-old daughter, is twice divorced. "We're taking the time to know each other," she says. At least one observer wonders what they're waiting for. Last October, at a White House dinner honoring Nelson Mandela, the South African president took one look at Whitfield and said of his friend Mfume, "At last he has presented me with someone worthy!"

Sen. Fred Thompson & singer Lorrie Morgan

Freshman Sen. Fred Thompson, Republican of Tennessee, should have been one of the honored guests at the governor's inaugural ball in Nashville last January. Instead he was the subject of a gentle ribbing by Gov. Don Sundquist. "Lorrie Morgan is here," announced Sundquist to the crowd. "And she has a guest."

Such are the dangers politicians face when they romance a star like Morgan, 35, whose string of no. 1 country hits includes "Out of Your Shoes" and "Don't Close Your Eyes." Thompson, 52, who was minority counsel during the 1973 Watergate hearings, is no stranger to show business, having appeared in such movies as 1993's In the Line of Fire and 1990's The Hunt for Red October. Still, eager to establish political credibility, the senator, who was divorced from his wife of 25 years, Sarah Lindsey Thompson, in 1985, is playing down his new romance. "It's no big deal," says his son Tony Thompson, 34.

Maybe. But it looks like fun. One recent night the two fed strawberries to each other at Mario's, a swanky Nashville restaurant, and when Morgan performed two weeks ago at Washington's Kennedy Center, Thompson, who has three grown children and three grandchildren, was there. Dressed in a filmy white gown, Morgan took center stage and dedicated her final song, "Forever Yours, Faithfully," to "my fans...especially one." After the show, the presumed "one" embraced a joyous Morgan, who has withstood two divorces and the death of a third husband, country singer Keith Whitley, in 1989. "This is my year," says the mother of two. "Fred Thompson is part of my life, and I'm happier than ever."

SHELLEY LEVITT
ALICIA BROOKS, MARY ESSELMAN and ROCHELLE JONES in Washington, NANCY MATSUMOTO in New York City, JANE SANDERSON in Nashville

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