I wasn’t alive when John F. Kennedy played the field, so Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was the first time in my life that politics became synonymous with prurience.
I remember reading the riveting details of their escapades: the cigar, the blue dress, and the shocking Oval Office tête-à-têtes.
But there are other juicy, sad, and outrageous examples of politicians misbehaving. They are very human stories—love and sex, hate and redemption, guilt and lust—woven by men and women addicted to power. In some cases, like former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, they are tales of personal journeys. As he wrote some time after he admitted having an affair with a male aide: “I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed: a boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine kind of love.”
Are politics and sex forever doomed to be joined at the hip? If these most notable political affairs in recent history provide any indication, the answer is yes. From Wilbur Mills and his favorite stripper, Fanne Fox, to Larry Craig and his wandering right foot, it’s clear that sex and politics will continue to make interesting bedfellows.
A Tale of Two Families
Life in Washington must be boring for a Catholic politician from New York. What better way to pass the time than to start a second family? Five-term Congressman Vito Fossella, a Republican, lived a Leave It To Beaver existence with his high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Mary Pat, and their three children, ages four to twelve. But the Staten Island politician’s life took a turn for the trashy when he struck up a relationship with Virginian Laura Fay and fathered a love child.
According to a recent New York Daily News article, Fossella’s double life came tumbling down around him after he was pulled over for drunk driving—his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit—and sprung from prison by his mistress.
Gary Condit couldn’t have been happy when terror struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, but he must have felt some relief to be immediately expunged from cable news shows—for months, television’s talking heads speculated as to whether he had his mistress, young Washington intern Chandra Levy, killed.
Gary Condit, a fifty-three-year-old grandfather and then-Democratic congressman from California, had an illicit relationship with Levy, thirty years his junior. When she went missing, it began one of the biggest “Whodunnit” games in modern history. By the time Levy’s body was found in March of 2002, nobody seemed to notice. The case remains unsolved.
Donna Hearts Hart
Perhaps no presidential campaign collapsed quicker than that of Gary Hart in 1988. Despite rumors of womanizing, the world was his—primary competition included wimpy Michael Dukakis, and it seemed the Democrats were due a win after eight years of Reagan.
Alas, according to the Washington Post (and every other news outlet at the time), the infamous picture of young model Donna Rice cozied on Hart’s lap—and a report by the Miami Herald that the two had spent the night together—catapulted Dukakis into also-ran history.
Poor Hart. He was a trailblazer for Bill Clinton, whose extramarital adventures never seemed to matter when he was running for president.
Mr. Mills, Mr. Mills! Where Are You?
Arkansas congressman Wilbur Daigh Mills, sixty-five, was on top. A veteran politician and Democratic chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, his distinguished political career seemed secure.
Until, according to Time magazine reports in 1974, he was pulled over by Washington police late one night. One of his passengers, Annabella Battistella—her stripper name was Fanne Fox—leaped from the car and jumped into an estuary of the Potomac River.
The politician’s fate was sealed when Fanne Fox—thirty years his junior—later called Mills onto the stage at Boston’s burlesque Pilgrim Theater. According to Time, Fox called into the audience: “I’d like you to meet somebody. Mr. Mills, Mr. Mills! Where are you?” He strode onto stage, and “placing a hand on Fanne’s shoulder, Mills began a brief exchange of quips with the audience, then received a kiss on the cheek from his favorite stripper and calmly walked offstage.”
And ended his career.
Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts (and one of the first openly gay members of Congress), admitted to paying prostitute and pimp, Stephen L. Gobie, for sex
But, according to a Washington Post article, the buck stopped there: he said he fired Gobie when he found out Gobie was running a prostitution service out of Frank’s Capitol Hill apartment. And Frank wasn’t afraid to go literary: he likened himself to Henry Higgins, a character in Pygmalion who tries to turn a “cockney waif” into a high-class member of English society.
Frank is still in Congress, fighting for the underdogs.
New York governor Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat who won a national reputation as crusading against Wall Street immorality, was revealed as Client 9 of a high-priced prostitution ring. His employee, Ashley “Kristen” Dupre, is a twenty-two-year-old call girl who charged at least $1,000 an hour.
Wife Silda (and mother of three teenage daughters) at his side, Spitzer told the world: “I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong. I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better.”
According to CNN, all told, Spitzer spent more than $15,000 on prostitutes. I wonder how much he spent on his make-up gift to Silda.
It’s an utterly American story. Democrat James McGreevey, governor of New Jersey, had an affair with an aide named Golan Cipel. The married man was, in reality, a gay man, and beyond the pictures of his aggrieved wife Dina standing beside him at the news conference simmered a narrative worthy of a best-selling novel.
In a first-person story he wrote for New York magazine, McGreevey explained, as would a Harlequin romance writer: “It was wrong to do. I wasn’t an ordinary citizen anymore. There were state troopers parked outside. My wife was in the hospital. And he was my employee. But I took Golan by the hand and led him upstairs to my bed. He kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean—it sent me through the roof. I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed: a boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine kind of love. When he was gone, I realized that this might all explode on me one day, but I just didn’t care. I felt invincible then.”
In 1976, Congressman Wayne Hays, a Democrat from Ohio, was exposed by his call girl-dressed-as-secretary, Elizabeth Ray. According to the Washington Post, Ray, twenty-seven at the time, said Hays paid her $14,000 a year in public money to service his sexual desires.
“I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone,” said Ray in Washington Post news accounts. She simply showed up at the office twice a week for a “few hours” to service the sixty-four-year-old politician.
Hays, in a very 1970s-seeming response, said: “Hell’s fire! I’m a very happily married man.”
Larry Craig, a Republican congressman from Idaho, escaped the doldrums of the Potato State for some gay action in the men’s room. Unfortunately for him, when he tap-tapped his right foot to allegedly initiate an amour, the object of the lust-filled entreaty was an undercover policeman.
According to a CNN report, when the police interviewed him later, the senator told the officials he “has a wide stance when going to the bathroom” and that was why his foot may have touched the officer’s foot.
Word to the wise: maintain a narrow footprint in the men’s bathroom.