History shows Weiner could persevere past scandal

By Steve Leblanc

Associated Press

Published: Friday, June 10 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

If he manages to keep his seat in Congress, Anthony Weiner would join a handful of political figures who survived what initially looked like a career-ending debacle.

And even if the experiences of the likes of Bill Clinton, Barney Frank, David Vitter and others weren't enough, a new poll points to a forgiving constituency.

Both factors point to what observers call a truism in the fast-paced world of seamy gossip and online revelations — the first few days after a politician comes clean are invariably the worst.

"By sitting tight, most of the politicians were able to stay in office," said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "In general, voters are interested in these sex scandals, but they are not willing to kick their senators or representatives out of office."

Weiner, a married seven-term Democrat, this week acknowledged sending sexually charged photos and messages to six women he did not know. The scandal started with the release by a conservative blogger of a man's bulging underpants, a picture the blogger said Weiner had sent to a 21-year-old follower on Twitter.

The congressman initially said it was a hack job, then a prank, then at a candid half-hour news conference tearfully acknowledged sending the photo. Further revelations of additional explicit photos and online exchanges with other women quickly escalated the matter, and several colleagues have called for him to resign.

Until recently, most political observers and media outlets considered it a foregone conclusion that his career was over.

But those reports may be premature, judging by the NY1-Marist Poll showing that 56 percent of registered voters polled in Weiner's district think he should stay on the job, as well the experience of other politicians who have survived sex scandals.

In a nutshell, experts say, the lessons are these: Ride the scandal out as best you can. Hope that voters back home are in a forgiving mood. Pray that time and the nation's short attention span will do the rest.

In 1989, Rep. Barney Frank's political and personal life lay in tatters. Allegations that a companion had run a gay sex-for-hire ring out of the Massachusetts Democrat's Washington apartment seemed like a career death knell.

Frank was reprimanded by the House for using his influence on behalf of the assistant, Stephen Gobie, although the Ethics Committee rejected Gobie's allegations that Frank knew about the prostitution ring.

Two decades later, Frank had not only weathered the scandal, winning every election since, but had risen to one of the most influential posts in the House, controlled by Democrats at the time — chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter lay low after news broke in July 2007 that his telephone number had appeared in the records of a Washington-area escort service that authorities said was a front for prostitution.

Vitter admitted only to a "serious" sin, stonewalled the details and bided his time. He also denied a claim by another prostitute that he had been a client.

He continues to serve in Congress.

Former President Bill Clinton conceded while in office that he'd had an inappropriate relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky. He was impeached but finished the rest of his presidency largely with popular support.

Today, Clinton inspires fondness and reverence among Democrats, with the Lewinsky scandal only a prominent footnote.

Key to their success were the survival skills honed in the crucible of the public spotlight, the kind that will be sorely tested in the case of Weiner, who appears already to have learned a few damage control lessons.

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