by Willie Simpson
Poor Anthony Weiner. Publicly shamed and denied a dignified departure for a sin most constituents see as inconsequential, it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for the man. His colleagues turned their backs on him, he was forced to leave Congress, and he suffered some of the worst ridicule of a public figure that we’ve seen in generations. And, in the end, it’s hard to see how the punishment fits the crime.
By comparison, it’s truly remarkable to see how some politicians managed to survive being caught in massive embarrassment, corruption or crime, keeping their seats and, sometimes, moving on to higher positions in government. Here is a list of 10 notorious politicians – local and national, present and past – who somehow kept their jobs while Weiner is hung out to dry.
Carl Kruger’s Corruption
Political scandals strike at all levels of government. Sheepshead Bay’s own State Senator Carl Kruger falls on the lower level of the national hierarchy, but his crimes are just as common as those found on Capitol Hill. Last June, the public learned that Kruger was being investigated by the FBI on charges of bribery, but that was just the tip of the ice berg. The investigation suggests that Kruger was not only taking bribes and promising favors for the right price, but he may have secretly been in a same-sex relationship with one of his accomplices – a fact made more salacious by his staunch opposition to gay marriage. Despite surrendering to federal authorities last March, Kruger still serves as state senator and most of his colleagues have not called for his resignation.
Dick Cheney’s Hunting Trip
Some scandals aren’t technically crimes, but are accidents so embarrassing that, should they get out, it would spell death for a politician’s career. This was the case in Weiner’s scandal, and it could have been the case with Dick Cheney’s disastrous hunting trip in February of 2006. The one difference is that Cheney somehow managed to stay on as Vice President despite shooting his friend, Harry Whittington, in the face. Aside from shooting somebody with a gun, the most controversial aspect to this incident was how Cheney tried to suppress the release of the incident for a full work week until he could straighten out the facts with the local sheriff’s department. It could have been the scandal that brought Cheney down for good, but luckily for him, it only brought his already low poll numbers down to a record 18 percent.
Charles Rangel’s Getaway
Charles Rangel, the legendary and powerful Harlem congressman, was also rocked by scandal in recent years. In 2008, a slew of ethical and legal charges were levied against Rangel. A few of the highlights included renting four below-market apartments that he used as campaign quarters, not declaring the income of a free Congressional parking space on his tax returns, and failing to report income on a Dominican beachside villa, essentially using it as a tax shelter. Rangel was defiant in the face of these serious ethical breaches, but lost his powerful seat as the head of the Ways and Means Committee, and gained a damning Congressional Censure as a prize. Despite these humiliating smack downs, Rangel cruised to another easy election and remains in power to this day.
Marion Barry’s Crack Habit
In 1990, longtime Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry had been under federal investigation for six years under the suspicion of illegal drug use. In January of that year, Barry was finally arrested in a dramatic filmed sting operation in which Barry uttered the immortal line, “Bitch set me up!” Barry was caught red-handed with crack cocaine and was sentenced to six months in federal prison. None of this stopped Barry’s political career. Upon being released from prison, Barry ran for mayor again in 1994 under the slogan, “He may not be perfect, but he’s perfect for D.C.” He somehow won and served out his term till 1999. He currently serves as a D.C. councilmember.
Bill Clinton’s Cigars
It’s fascinating to the extent to which Anthony Weiner’s scandal mirrors, and is connected to, that of Bill Clinton’s historic White House episode with Monica Lewinsky. First of all, Weiner has strong ties to the Clintons, being married to one of Hillary’s closest aides, Huma Abedin. Second, like Clinton, Weiner was a charming and charismatic politician, a natural with unlimited potential. Third, they both lied about sex and were quickly caught red handed, forcing awkward retractions and apologetic press conferences. Clinton suffered the indignity of a full blown presidential impeachment, which rallied the country to his side, and allowed him to escape impeachment relatively unscathed. Weiner, who didn’t even have sex with any of the women he was sending lewd photos to, had to resign in disgrace, suffering the fate that many of Clinton’s enemies were certain the president would have to suffer.
Ted Kennedy’s Late Night Swim
In 1969, the world was in Ted Kennedy’s palm. The senator from Massachusetts was the last son of the gifted Kennedy dynasty. It was almost a foregone conclusion that he would challenge Richard Nixon in the 1972 election and probably win. That is, until he violated one of the cardinal rules of politics: “Never get caught with a dead girl or a live boy.” On July 18, 1969, a drunken Kennedy drove his car off a bridge into a lake off Chappaquiddick Island, killing his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne in the process. Failing to rescue Mary Jo, Kennedy swam to shore and went home, failing to report the incident to the police. Kennedy was charged with leaving the scene of the crime and given a slap on the wrist. The scandal that ensued cemented a public image of Kennedy as a drunkard, and a rich playboy who could buy his way out of trouble. While the incident certainly stopped Kennedy from ever sitting in the White House, he did manage to serve in the senate for the rest of his life, garnering a reputation for himself as an elder statesman, with the incident miraculously doing little to derail his congressional career and influence.
Warren G. Harding’s Peccadillos
Warren G. Harding was America’s 29th President. He came to power at the start of the roaring twenties when gangsters and string pullers were buying elections and corrupting the political process. Considered one of the worst presidents of all time, Harding accomplished little before he suddenly died two years into his first term. One thing Harding was accomplished at was extramarital affairs. The man was an unabashed romantic who couldn’t say no to women. He impregnated his aide Nan Britton, a woman who became delusional, convinced that the president would leave his wife and make her first lady. Her person and her child were carefully kept under wraps. Harding’s sexual exploits were salacious, with claims that he had sex with girlfriends in a White House closet, participated in orgies, and carried on many affairs. While a lot of these rumors were unsubstantiated, Harding’s untimely death stunted any possible repercussions from womanizing should he have lived.
Nixon’s First Scandal
While everyone knows that Nixon went down with the Watergate scandal, it’s sometimes forgotten that his career in politics could have ended much earlier in 1952, when he was trying to hold on as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice presidential candidate. Nixon was accused of receiving money and gifts from political backers in exchange for special favors. Nixon had made his name fighting government corruption, and these charges seemed fairly damning. To stem the tide of this growing scandal, Nixon took to the TV waves pleading for mercy and emphasizing that one of the gifts was a black and white dog named Checkers that he simply, in good conscious, couldn’t take away from his daughter. The speech was seen by 60 million Americans, and Nixon received a massive splash of public support which saved his candidacy as vice president, and subsequently altered the future history of the United States by ensuring his political fame, legitimacy, and infamy.
Reagan Didn’t Remember
In November of 1986, it came to light that senior Reagan officials secretly sold arms to Iran, which was under an international arms embargo, in exchange for the release of hostages and cash. The cash was then allegedly used to fund Nicaraguan Contras to fight a guerrilla war against the leftist Nicaraguan government. Cooked up in large part by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the scheme directly implicated the President. This massively illegal operation had the potential to bring Reagan and his officials down should proper evidence be found linking Ronnie to the deal, but North destroyed a lot of the evidence, and Reagan was never pinned down. In a remarkable tongue-twisting speech, Reagan took responsibility for the scandal while claiming that he never knew it happened and that he never authorized it. Reagan’s approval rating plummeted from 67 percent to 46 percent, the largest drop ever at the time, but the fickle public soon forgot and forgave Ronald. He exited office with a robust 64 percent approval rating, the highest ever for a departing president.
Clarence Thomas’s Awkward Entry to the Highest Court
Clarence Thomas’s path to the Supreme Court was not easy. Set to replace Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first black justice, Thomas faced a flurry of opposition from women’s and civil rights groups over his controversial conservative views. When a secret FBI report leaked that Thomas had been accused by law professor Anita Hill of sexual harassment, his confirmation took on an even more scandalous nature. Anita’s accusations were disturbing and detailed as she highlighted Thomas’s long history of uncomfortable sexual harassment. The most infamous story involved a coke can and pubic hair. Other women came forward to back Hill up, but throughout it all, Thomas was indignant and called his confirmation a form of lynching. Thomas was eventually put on the bench, and has remained there ever since, though no one has gone near his soda since. It should be noted that Weiner was one of Thomas’ most recent and vocal critics, exposing Thomas for voting on healthcare matters that he has a financial stake in. Of course, those allegations will go nowhere now, and Thomas will remain on the bench.
This list of 10 was just the first 10 that came to our minds, but there are a whole lot more out there. What political scandals do you know of that were more serious than Anthony Weiner’s, but whose protagonists continued their public careers?