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May 1, 2013

House of Burgess: Wait, how did you get back in?

Philandering politicians Weiner, Sanford return to the political stage.

— Recently, two politicians I never thought would be heard from again have resurfaced. Both have taken advantage of the inability of incumbents to seek re-election in their respective districts. And they both provide interesting case studies in life after political death.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been termed out of office and is ineligible to seek re-election for a fourth term in November. This vacuum has left a wide chasm waiting to be filled by any number of Big Apple hopefuls. But one name had me scratching my head: that of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner. In May 2011, while he was still representing New York’s 9th Congressional District, Weiner sent a picture of his, uh, you know, to a follower of his Twitter account. The photo was quickly removed, and Weiner quickly maintained his account had been hacked. Then, a few days later, he relented. At a press conference he revealed he had, in fact, “exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years.”

Now Weiner has returned to the political arena. And he wants forgiveness.

“I do want to have that conversation with people whom I let down and with people who put their faith in me and who wanted to support me,” Weiner was quoted as saying in an April 14 New York Times Magazine profile. “I think to some degree I do want to say to them, ‘Give me another chance.’”

But it gets stranger. In South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, two major party candidates are vying for Republican Rep. Tim Scott’s former seat, which has been vacant since Jan. 2 when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate. And who are these two candidates up for a vote Tuesday? Why it’s none other than former Gov. Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford vs. Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. [Editor’s note: And you want to know who has been one of Weiner’s closest friends for almost 25 years? Jon Stewart. Life is just too weird sometimes.] In June 2009, then Gov. Sanford was missing for nearly a week. Before he disappeared he told his staff he was hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail. If he meant he was in South America with his Argentinian mistress, María Belén Chapur, then he was telling the truth.

I am generally disgusted by marital treachery, but I’m not usually morally outraged by politicians who cheat. Let’s be realistic. I mean, look at what it takes to get elected; not a lot of moral loyalty at play. It’s the nature of the position, especially today. And if we started listing unfaithful politicians, we’d be here all week. What I’m fascinated by is why some people get to stay in public service and why some are rejected forever by the hoi polloi. I posed this question to my own wife, Ash, and she had an interesting take on the subject.

“A married male politician’s road to recovery from a sex scandal depends on his wife being forgiving or forgettable,” she said. “If she is high profile, her standing by and forgiving her man set the precedent. If she divorces him, it also sets the precedent.”

Newt Gingrich’s crimes against the institution of marriage are pretty loathsome when you sit down and spell them out, but I couldn’t for the life of me name any of his wives. Hillary Clinton is far from forgettable, but her public forgiveness of her husband’s habitual disloyalty set the tone. Weiner’s spouse is Huma Abedin, a longtime personal aide to Hillary. The lessons of her boss’ past were obviously not lost on her as she appeared on the front of the previously referenced issue of the New York Times Magazine along with her husband.

Sanford’s situation is exactly the opposite. But by Ash’s standard he has the opportunity to re-emerge as well. After the story initially broke, Jenny Sanford moved out of the governor’s mansion and filed for divorce. With all apologies to the former first lady of the Palmetto State, I really can’t remember what she looks like.

“Just as [voters] easily forget [the wife], they easily forget their husband’s bad behavior,” said Ash. “She does not have that kind of standard bearing over how her husband will be treated. People can easily forget her as they barely noticed her in the first place. So, her anger, bitterness and rejection of her husband does not sink his career.”

Take note, politicians, my wife speaks the truth. Or, you could just not cheat. That’s always an option.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.

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