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Heather Podesta, a Storm in the Summer of the Lobbyist

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A romance quickly blossomed, followed almost immediately by a living-together period and, in 2003, a show-stopping wedding reception, with guests the likes of Pelosi, Leahy, Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Celebrity chef Roberto Donna, of Iron Chef and Galileo fame, and Kaz Okochi, of Kaz Sushi Bistro, personally cooked for the guests.

She got the ring, but kept her name. Miller.

Married, yes, but maybe still a hottie at the Capitol, where she was a top congressional aide in her pre-lobbyist days. One afternoon, while subbing for her boss, California Rep. Bob Matsui, at a meeting, another congressman, apparently a naughty dude, was "visually undressing her," she says. She rolled her eyes to discourage him. But a Teamsters rep thought she was dissing him, and boy, did he give her bosses an earful. That is, until he learned that the aide he knew as Miller was married to a Podesta. Full stop. He backed off. Podesta power confirmed . . . which brought her, six months or so after saying, "I do," to a question: To Podesta or not to Podesta? (She had waited that long, she says, "to see if the marriage took.")

" 'There are going to be people who hate you without knowing you,' " she remembers her new husband telling her. " 'And there are going to be others who are loyal to you without knowing you.' I thought that was a lot cooler."

So did Tony.

"I'm the third husband, but this is the first time she's changed her name. That should tell you something," says Tony Podesta, now 65.

Tony, Italian bachelor that he was, came -- of course -- with a Mama: Mary Podesta, who died in 2007 after spending a chunk of her 88 years making pesto for Democratic fundraisers. "The Pesto PAC" get-togethers used to take place at Tony's home in Fairfax County, but they sold it and now party at their Woodley Park home while spending the past 2 1/2 years converting a large Kalorama home into the ultimate party pad -- its cellar will house Tony's wine collection, which runs into the thousands of bottles -- and showcase for their vast art collection. (The couple recently donated Shepard Fairey's iconic Obama "Hope" poster to the National Portrait Gallery.)

Real-estate adventures haven't slowed the gusher of Heather Podesta party e-mails. A recent invite to a lunch at Charlie Palmer's for Sen. Patty Murray of Washington came with reminders about two fundraisers the next day: breakfast for Rep. Steve Driehaus of Ohio and the ill-fated Feinstein lunch, and six more in the next five weeks.

"How do you throw all those damn fundraisers, Heather?" former Illinois congressman Marty Russo barked at Podesta at Rangel's birthday party.

"You ought to come sometime," she shot back.

On the flight up to New York (Podesta gave up her first-class seat to sit with me in steerage), she acknowledges that sometimes it's all too much.

"I have days when we're having a fundraiser at the house, and I just hit a wall and go upstairs and go to sleep," she says.

On inauguration night, Heather and Tony organized a D.C. dinner for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. The couple is close to Rendell -- Tony was a top strategist for Rendell's 2006 reelection campaign.

The Podestas booked every table at Posto, where they are regulars, for Rendell's supporters. But the Podestas also brought a few guests of their own.

"They were not there just to celebrate the victory, but wanted to talk to me about some things," Rendell says. "Tony and Heather are always working."

Research Director Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.


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