(Providence, Rhode Island) – Happy Father’s Day to all! George Washington was the “Father of our Country,” but apparently that was all he fathered. He had no children and - by most accounts - Washington served his country, was faithful to his wife, and left the scandals to his successors. The same can’t be said for a lot of other politicians since then. As promised, this week we are looking at political sex scandals, of all stripes!
“The Comeback Kid” – Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) shocked the political world in early May, when he won a seat in Congress. Sanford – who was famously caught in Argentina with his mistress while Governor – had told his staff and family he had gone hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Sanford and his mistress are now engaged. South Carolinians seemed in a forgiving mood. They are not alone.
“The Comeback Kid, Part II” – Former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is making his own comeback attempt, hoping to become the next Mayor of New York City. People laughed when Weiner entered the race - believing the Congressman, who sent “self-portraits” of his anatomy out on Twitter - was a political has-been. But, Weiner has been gaining in the polls and is now within five points of the frontrunner. Hopefully, no one will say it’s going to be a “photo finish!”
“Trending?” – So, Mark Sanford survives a sex scandal and is voted back into office. Wow!!! That must be a rare feat in an age when the public says, "Throw the bums out!" Anthony Weiner has no chance either.... Right? Wrong!!! In fact, more often than not, the public embraces and forgives its flawed candidates. Most politicians I’ve covered over three decades have, in fact, survived sex scandals. Here are some of the classics:
“The Tidal Basin Bombshell” - Congressman Wilbur Mills (D-AR). Mills had an affair with "Fanny Foxe," a Washington, DC, stripper. The two were drunk when he drove their car into the Washington Tidal Basin in 1974. He was reelected later that year, although he was stripped of his Chairmanship of the prestigious House Ways and Means Committee.
“Scandal by the Bay!” – Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had an affair with the wife of a close friend, both of whom served on his staff. Still, he was reelected Mayor with 72 percent of the vote and is now Lt. Governor of California. At the age of 45, he is a likely candidate for Governor or U.S. Senate some day; and either job could be his launching pad to the White House.
“Bipartisan Scandal” – Last week when I wrote about Democratic Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, I received an email excoriating me for ignoring Republican sex scandals, which isn’t true. Just Google my columns, and you’ll find plenty of GOP fodder. My point is that neither side can claim the other is the sex scandal king. It’s fairly well distributed between both parties.
“Equal Opportunity Sex Scandals” - Gay or straight, politics is an equal opportunity offender. Congressman Barney Frank's (D-MA) onetime live-in boyfriend actually worked as a male prostitute during the day while Frank was tending to his Congressional duties. After that revelation, Frank was promptly reelected, and continued to be reelected for another 25 years. Another gay Congressman, Gerry Studds (D-MA) had an affair with a 17-year-old male page, but Studds (Yes, that's his real name.)continued to be reelected for another 15 years.
“Jail Bait” - At the same time as the Studds-page affair, Republican Congressman Phil Crane (R-IL) was also caught having sex with a 17-year-old Congressional page - in his case, a female page. Both Congressmen were censured on the day. Crane retained his seat for another 20 years; and, as mentioned, Studds enjoyed a long career, too.
“Madam Who?” - Current U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) was a client of the famed "D.C. Madam," a known prostitute. Vitter was reelected to another six-year term.
“The Cat with Nine Lives” - President Bill Clinton remains immensely popular despite his sex scandals and impeachment. In fact, polls indicated he could have won a third term in 2000 had it not been for term limits. The public seems to love to forgive and give second chances (and in some cases, such as Clinton's, third and fourth and fifth chances). In 1997, Clinton was testifying in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones. He was impeached for perjury when Jones’ lawyers asked him about Monica Lewinsky and when he lied under oath.
“Equal Rights Amendment” - With lots of women in politics now, they are tempted, too. The late Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) admitted to an affair which took place a few years before she was elected, but the man later served on her staff. My favorite case is that of Utah State Representative Katherine Bryson. Hoping to catch a burglar, her husband installed a secret video camera in a condominium they owned. Unfortunately, it videotaped Mrs. Bryson and her male lover instead! Oops!
“The Unforgiven” - Not everyone survives. Former Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who was busted for soliciting in a Minneapolis airport restroom, and former Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada), who had a long affair with a key staffer’s wife, were both forced to resign. But, again, most politicians do survive the sex scandals. Former Senator and Presidential candidate John Edwards will probably never hold public office again. Why? A) He had an affair while his very popular wife was dying of cancer; and B) His mistress had a baby, that he first said was his campaign manager's child. DNA testing later did him in. There are just some things the public won’t ever forgive. But, Edwards just turned 60 last week and is a very persuasive speaker. Comeback Kid, Part III? Hey, it's American politics. Anything can happen!
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