What’s With All the Sex in the City?
New Yorkers See Their Fair Share of Scandal
Move over Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Charlie Sheen — the New York Congressional delegation is making a run to be the sex scandal kings of the decade.
From Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) to former Reps. Chris Lee (R) and Eric Massa (D), Empire State politicians are baring all and bringing their own version of “Sex and the City” to D.C.
Weiner joined the hall of shame Monday, admitting to sending “inappropriate” photos to at least six women who were not his wife.
Asked about the string of New York sex scandals, local political consultant Curtis Ellis immediately evoked the Rolling Stones.
“This is a sex drive city, baby,” he laughed. “I think people are getting de-sensitized to a certain degree. They see this as entertainment value, on the other hand, they say, ‘Who gives a damn, if the person’s doing a good job?'”
While sex scandals are hardly an exclusive New York problem, the state has certainly had more than its share of public officials caught in compromising positions.
Since 1960, dozens of New York politicians have been the focus of various and sundry scandals involving everything from sex with minors to marijuana possession to charges of corruption. But during the past three years, there has been a marked uptick in scandal-plagued politicians from the state, with six lawmakers caught in sexual peccadilloes. That doesn’t include Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D) ethics woes that have stretched over several years and resulted in official censure in December.
Media consultants largely blame the intense media scrutiny and cutthroat politics for the increasing number of storylines more akin to reality shows like Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New York City.”
“The trend line shows that it’s a hotbed of scandal at the state and federal level,” said Ron Bonjean, a former GOP leadership staffer.
But Bonjean, now at Singer Bonjean Strategies, doesn’t think there is more promiscuous behavior in the state causing the rash of salacious stories. “Because of the large population, the large concentration of lawmakers coinciding with an enormous media, you have the possibility for a lot more scrutiny,” he said.
That close examination can have real-world ramifications, with resignations causing political parties to lose seats, or the distraction thwarting a politician’s chances at running for another public office.
New York’s most recent scandal-tarred son, Weiner, 46, was widely expected to run for mayor of New York City. However, Weiner’s ongoing imbroglio involving suggestive photos of himself sans clothing has cast doubt on his potential viability for that office.
Local coverage, particularly in the New York Post, has been intense and merciless.
After originally insisting that his Twitter account had been hacked, the New York Democrat confessed Monday that he sent several lewd photos over the Internet to six women during the past three years, saying he had done “a regrettable thing.”
While it’s unclear how “Weinergate” will play out, so far the lawmaker has said he will not resign.
Weiner is just the latest New Yorker to face potential ramifications for getting caught with his pants down.
For Lee, who had been a rising GOP star, it was a case of getting caught with his shirt off. The married Republican sent a shirtless photo from the waist up to a woman he’d met online.
Lee resigned hours after the photos became public, and his disgraceful exit served as comic fodder for politicians on the trail during the special election to replace him in the 26th district. (Now-Rep. Kathy Hochul won that election, handing the Democrats another seat in one of the state’s most conservative districts.)
During the campaign, third-party candidate Jack Davis reduced the Lee incident to little more than a running joke.
“Jack would always joke that, ‘I promise I’ll work hard and I won’t take my shirt off,'” said Ellis, who served as Davis’ campaign manager.
Other scandals haven’t been so funny. Another upstate lawmaker, Massa, who became known as “Rep. Tickle,” resigned in March 2010 after it became public that he had used inappropriate language directed at staff and also allegedly groped a male staffer.
Former Rep. Vito Fossella (R) opted against running for re-election in May 2008 after it was exposed that he had a child out of wedlock with a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel.
It’s not only Congressional New Yorkers who have faced scrutiny over their sexual conquests. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) resigned in 2008 after having sex with a prostitute. After taking office, his replacement, David Paterson (D), also copped to having had extramarital affairs and using drugs.
And New York has a long history of lawmakers facing charges of corruption. Former Rep. Fred Richmond (D) is an infamous example. Richmond faced charges in 1978 for soliciting sex from a 16-year-old boy, and he later resigned his seat as part of a plea agreement for getting caught with marijuana and for making an illegal payment to a government employee.
Still, getting caught in a scandal is not necessarily a career-ender. Former Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who was expelled from the House after using official funds to pay for personal travel, was re-elected in the special election that had been set to replace him.
Powell famously asked his supporters to “Keep the faith, baby,” a motto that was later used as the title of a TV movie about his life.
Perhaps Weiner may want to keep Powell’s slogan in mind.
Steve Peoples contributed to this report.