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When scandals are good for politicians

Posted By Gina Loudon On 07/18/2013 @ 9:26 pm In Front Page,Politics,U.S. | No Comments

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has admitted improprieties that include sexting and sexual harassment, has been reportedly corrupt with city business, and is considerd by most entirely incapable from presiding as mayor under these circumstances.

His own party is calling for him to resign and his former fiancĂ©e has said it’s time for him to take a hike.

He won’t resign.

Meanwhile, the city waits. Filner cannot function as mayor in virtual hiding from media and accusers, and his staff is resigning like flies dropping in fumigation.

But why won’t Filner gather whatever dignity is left and move along? Could it be that he is following in the footsteps of an odd cadre of those who have made a career of sexual exploits?

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, AKA The Luv Guv as dubbed by New York tabloids, is back, bigger than ever after his hooker escapade in 2008. He is leading now in a bid for city comptroller.

Then there is the classic, ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner. He is running a winning race for mayor of New York, after sexting obscene photos to strangers.

The New York Times described the re-emergence of Spitzer as “an era when politicians…have shown that public disapproval, especially over sexual misconduct, can be fleeting.”

There was Kennedy, still revered despite his sexual improprieties committed against one of the most popular American women of all time, Jackie Kennedy. Then there was Bill Clinton. Some have asked if Hillary would be so politically viable if the Lewinsky scandal had never occurred.

Bill Clinton defiantly looked in the cameras and dared the American public to oust him, despite an impeachment. Filner could be gathering this data cognitively and deciding he doesn’t have a lot to lose.

Prior to his scandal, who had heard of Spitzer or Weiner? Mayor Filner is a former congressman no one ever heard of, but with his new sexual scandals, he is becoming a household name. At 70, what more could he want?

Not everyone gets to come back as a sex symbol. Some do fade away. There was Sen. Larry Craig, the Republican who tried to solicit an undercover police officer for sex in a restroom in the Minneapolis airport. There was Congressman Mark Foley, who chose congressional pages for his victims. Perhaps the most unbelievable for the public: John Edwards, who cheated on his wife while she was dying of cancer. Despite his good looks, the public does seem to have some limits on their tolerance.

But how much will the public will excuse? Moreover, do sex scandals propel careers to bigger stardom?

One could make the case that running for other offices like Sanford did helped re-establish his career and life.

Filner is 70 years old. His marriage has failed. His congressional career is over. Scandals are thick on the ground. What does he have left to lose?

He came out and apologized, promising to attend sensitivity training and to “get help” for his sexual issues. But what does he gain, personally, by resigning? If he resigns in humiliation, his legacy is written. He has lost his friends, his family, his staff, and his credibility. At 70 years hard lived, he may not be able to re-invent himself. If he leaves his powerful post as mayor now, he might be wondering what he would have left.

But Filner could be miscalculating. It could get worse.

There could be more victims, lawsuits, and humiliation. Filner’s calculation may be off.

Neither Spitzer, Weiner nor Sanford had their staff or closest political confidants turn on them. Each resigned or retired, and each had plenty of time, energy, and friends left to re-launch their political careers.

Gingrich’s marital infidelities didn’t render him ineffective politically. Teddy Kennedy didn’t resign after the Chappaquiddick scandal and still never lost another election to Senate. There were others.

But he could have read the research, and that may have convinced Filner to stay his course. Statistically, the numbers favor the possibility of recovery from sexual scandal.

Scott Basinger of the University of Houston studied the fallout of 237 political scandals. He found that time does indeed heal most wounds, even political ones of a sexually scandalous nature.

He wondered if the voting public sees sex scandals as separate and distinct from other scandals. He found that corruption scandals do the most damage. Sex and financial scandals do a little less damage. And campaign violations had no significant effect at all.

Basinger might advise Filner to stay. He found that politicians who resign right away, such as Congressman Chris Lee, who resigned the same day as photographs were released of him to a woman he met on Craigslist, are damaged. Basinger says such incidents only lose an incumbent about 5 percent of a vote.

Filner won by 3 percent of the vote, but he might think that national attention could get him national money for a local race that could purchase those additional percentage points if he stays the course, and runs for another term as mayor.

Psychologically speaking, Filner is used to moving on after scandals and investigations. His confidence in his own ability to ride such storms may be disproportionate to his viability at this point, but it may be impossible to convince him of that.

The only ones sure to lose in this scandal, and that of those survived by other political recoveries, are the victims who lay in the dust.


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