By Albert R. Hunt
2009-07-07 12:14 AM
The Americans have caught up; South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is the latest example. Here is a top 10 list of the most memorable U.S. sex scandals over the last generation:
1. Bill Clinton. The venue, the Oval Office, catapults the Monica Lewinsky affair to the top. There were two important lessons, one unfortunate, the other instructive. The first is if Clinton hadn't lied initially about his relations with Lewinsky, he may well have been forced out of office. The second is that his adversaries overreacted. The Republican effort to impeach the president for lying about sex offended voters more than Clinton's conduct.
2. Laura Foreman and Buddy Cianfrani. In 1977, Foreman was the dazzling diva of the New York Times, a sparkling writer and presence. Then it was revealed that while previously covering politics for the Philadelphia Inquirer Foreman had been involved with Henry J. (Buddy) Cianfrani, a mob-connected South Philadelphia Democratic boss.
Foreman was fired and Cianfrani was convicted for racketeering and sent to prison. End of story, except not. When he was released, he married Foreman and they lived happily for 22 years until he died. They moved to the Washington suburbs where, Cianfrani once told me, the neighborhood was full of FBI agents.
3. Wilbur Mills. From the late-1950s through the early- ?0s, as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he was the most powerful member of Congress; U.S. presidents and corporate chiefs pandered to him. Part of the Mills mystique was that he eschewed the social scene, spending evenings with his wife reading tax laws. Then in 1974, while secretly sneaking out with a stripper whose stage name was Fanne Foxe, known as the "Argentine Firecracker," they were caught after a night of drinking. Fanne jumped into Washington's Tidal Basin to try to flee the scene, and Mills soon left Congress. Before he died in 1992, he was an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
4. Gary Hart. In 1987, the Colorado senator was the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, an early favorite to win the White House. Acting on a tip, the Miami Herald tailed him and caught him in a tryst with model Donna Rice. This was one of the first times the American press uncovered a sex scandal, and it ruined Hart's candidacy. One myth is that the Rice investigation was sparked by Hart's challenge to journalists to follow him to dispel rumors about his personal life. In fact, the Miami Herald had been on the story for some time, and Hart's challenge actually appeared in The New York Times on the same day as the Herald expose.
5. Sanford. The South Carolina governor, a favorite of his party's conservative wing, was incommunicado over Father's Day weekend; he was forced to acknowledge he had gone to see his lover, leaving behind his wife of 20 years and four sons. In nonstop interviews since, Sanford has left little doubt he's in love with his mistress - "my soulmate" - and has said he's trying to fall back in love with his wife.
He's using a familiar refrain for politicians: the God card. In every explanation, he works in the deity. Encouraged by his wife, he says he once took his "spiritual adviser" to meet the other woman and discuss the relationship.
6. Wayne Hays. The Ohio Democrat was one of the biggest bullies in Congress, intimidating lawmakers and staff alike as chairman of the House Administration Committee. Then, Elizabeth Ray, a woman hired to be a secretary and receptionist, confessed to the Washington Post that her real raison d'etre was to provide sexual favors to the congressman. "I can't type, I can't file, I can't even answer the phone," she said. The scandal forced Hays out of Congress.
7. Newt Gingrich. In 1980, the then-Georgia congressman handed his wife divorce papers. She was in the hospital recuperating from cancer surgery. Gingrich shortly remarried. Eighteen years later, he led the effort to impeach Clinton for lying about sexual dalliances even as Gingrich was having an affair with a House aide. Today that's his third wife, and he's a possible candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
8. John and Rita Jenrette. The South Carolina Democrat and his wife claimed that in the late-1970s they made love on the steps leading to the House side of the Capitol. They stopped, they said, when House Speaker Tip O'Neill was walking toward them. Jenrette was later convicted of taking bribes and sent to prison. Tourists are still shown the Jenrette site on the House steps, though a few insiders doubt the story. O'Neill almost always rode the elevator.
9. Larry Craig. The "pro-family" Idaho senator was apprehended in a Minneapolis airport men's room, accused of soliciting sex. One of the signals used, investigators said, was leaving his briefcase outside the stall. Craig denied he was soliciting sex. When the details came out, one prominent Washington journalist recalled that several years earlier he had dashed to make a train to New York and immediately ran to the restroom, inadvertently leaving his briefcase outside. When he opened the door, there was a smiling man in a baseball cap. It was Craig.
10. Eliot Spitzer and David Vitter. Both were caught using prostitutes, unusual only for their hypocrisy. Spitzer, as attorney general and governor of New York, was a moral crusader against illicit activities, and Vitter a self-styled "family values" senator from Louisiana. Today, according to a recent survey, Spitzer is more popular in New York than Governor David Paterson, who succeeded him when he was forced to resign. Vitter is favored to retain his Senate seat.