NEW YORK — Add Rep. Anthony Weiner to the growing list of New York politicians caught in headline-grabbing sex scandals. The disclosure by the seven-term married Democrat that he had sent raunchy texts and photos to several women online placed him in a rogue's gallery of Empire State elected officials better known for their sexual shenanigans than legislative accomplishments.
Weiner's confession this week came just four months after an upstate New York lawmaker, Republican Rep. Chris Lee, stepped down after shirtless photos he sent to a woman he met on Craigslist were published online. A Democrat, Kathy Hochul, won a special election to replace Lee, and Democrats hailed the victory as a turning point for the party following its drubbing in the 2010 midterm elections.
But since the infamous photo of a man's bulging underpants that Weiner sent appeared on Twitter nearly two weeks ago, the "Weinergate" controversy has dominated the news and distracted attention from Democrats' efforts to slam Republicans for proposing deep cuts to Medicare. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi formally requested an ethics probe to determine whether Weiner broke House rules, while other Democrats have stayed largely silent on his plight.
"Anthony Weiner was never known as a mature guy, and his abrasiveness has not made him any friends among his congressional colleagues," Democratic consultant George Arzt said. "I don't think he ever grew up. His behavior has always been a little out of sync from his duties."
Even if Weiner does survive the controversy in the short term, his dream of running for New York mayor has likely been dashed for good. A new Marist poll showed 56 percent don't want him to be mayor, even though half don't believe he should resign his seat in Congress.
And Weiner will almost certainly be sidelined as one of the party's most ardent and identifiable champions of liberal causes.
Scandal-weary Democrats in New York and Washington could also seek other ways to marginalize Weiner, like eliminating his Brooklyn and Queens congressional district when lawmakers redraw the state's political boundaries following the 2010 census. New York is to lose two seats.
"If the powers that be want to stick it to Weiner in redistricting, they can and they will," said Dave Wasserman, a redistricting analyst for the Cook Political Report. "From a geographic point of view, it would be a piece of cake."
Leaders of the House Ethics Committee on Tuesday issued their first statement about Weiner but did not say an investigation was under way.
"If and when an investigation is appropriate in any matter, the committee will carry out its responsibilities pursuant to our rules and with the utmost integrity and fairness," said Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking Democrat Linda Sanchez of California. "Pursuant to our rules of confidentiality, we will not have any further comment at this time."
To be sure, there has been no shortage of far-flung sex scandals ensnaring elected officials in both parties recently.
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, acknowledged last month he had fathered a child with a household staff member. Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who twice sought the party's presidential nomination and was John Kerry's vice presidential running mate in 2004, was indicted last week on charges he had broken campaign finance laws by using funds from wealthy benefactors to hide his mistress and their baby in the run-up to the 2008 presidential primaries.
Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign resigned last month a day before he was to testify before a Senate ethics panel about an affair with the wife of a top aide, the aide's subsequent lobbying of Ensign's office and a payment from Ensign's parents to the aide's family.
Still, New York in recent years has emerged as something of a hub for reckless politicians who risk their power, families and reputations for sex.
Democratic Rep. Eric Massa resigned his upstate seat last year amid allegations he had sexually harassed male staffers. Massa denied the allegations but acknowledged having "tickle fights" with men in his office.
Following a drunken driving arrest in 2008, Republican Rep. Vito Fossella, a married father of three, was forced to acknowledge he had fathered a daughter with a mistress. Fossella, who represented the New York City borough of Staten Island, declined to run for re-election that year.
One of New York's most infamous political sex scandals involved former Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after 14 months in office after being identified as "Client 9" in a prostitution bust. Before becoming governor in 2006, Spitzer, the state's former attorney general, had earned a national reputation in part for prosecuting prostitution rings.
Now a host of a political talk show on CNN, Spitzer on Monday described as "cringe-worthy" the extraordinary news conference at which Weiner acknowledged sending a photo of his barely clothed crotch to a young woman on Twitter.
"Believe me, I know. I've been there," Spitzer said, adding that the decision on whether to resign is "deeply personal."