Friends and associates say child-rearing and politics are two of Ms. Achtenberg's abiding passions.
"Her idea of a good time is to get together with close friends for dinner," said Andrew Barrer, head of Coalition '93, an alliance of gay groups that proposes political candidates. "When she wants fun, we go out to an Italian restaurant and talk civil rights -- not only gay and lesbian rights, but Democratic politics, too."
Gay activists make no secret of the importance they attach to Ms. Achtenberg as a trailblazer.
That role places "an enormous responsibility" on Ms. Achtenberg, said William Waybourn, head of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a 2-year-old political action committee for gay candidates. "Every aspect of her life is under scrutiny. Senators are giving far more hostile attention to her than they would typically to an assistant secretary of housing."
The Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative church group that has bitterly opposed Ms. Achtenberg's nomination, said his group is less concerned with Ms. Achtenberg's homosexuality than with "her long record of lesbian activism" -- activism that Mr. Sheldon said is intended to foment a "cultural revolution" and elevate homosexuality to legal minority status.
But that's not the view of Lee Korins, chairman of the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco, who recalls that Ms. Achtenberg worked to soften new city health regulations that would have cost his company, and others, millions of dollars in structural changes.
"I have never found her fanatical," he said. "She's shown herself to be very responsive to the business community. But like all politicians, she has a constituency to serve."
Carol Piasente, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, echoed Mr. Korins' view.
"The business community here has a tremendous respect for the way [Ms. Achtenberg] has worked in understanding and responding to business issues," she said.
But Mr. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition said: "San Francisco is not America. She'll now be serving all Americans, and there's a big difference between San Francisco and Macon, Ga., or Bowie, Md."