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Path to redemption for libidinous pols

Published July 09. 2013 4:00AM

So former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer - a.k.a. "Client-9" - has joined the long list of disgraced politicians begging forgiveness for past illicit transgressions and asking voters to put them back on the public payroll.

Mr. Spitzer, forced to resign in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, announced over the weekend that he intends to run for New York City comptroller.

If elected he could wind up in the administration of another once-bright but lately tarnished political star also seeking redemption: former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Mr. Weiner, who tweeted himself out of office in 2011 by sexting a photo of his too-tighty whiteys, has thrown his hat into the ring for New York City mayor.

At last report the former congressman is the front-runner in a crowded field, and undoubtedly the only mayoral candidate featured in an ongoing exhibition at New York's Museum of Sex titled "Universe of Desire."

New York, of course, does not own the franchise on libidinous lawmakers.

In May, voters in South Carolina's First Congressional District elected former Gov. Mark Sanford their representative, just two years after he resigned over an extramarital affair. Mr. Sanford had not done himself any favors in 2011 when he initially tried to account for an extended absence by claiming he had been hiking on the Appalachian Trail. The wayward governor later admitted he was canoodling with his sweetheart in Argentina.

Perhaps the greatest "Comeback Kid," of course, was former President Bill "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" Clinton, who gained re-election to a second term and then survived impeachment despite charges related to his affair with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Though some Americans seem to embrace Alexander Pope's dictum, "To err is human, to forgive is divine," not all politicians manage to survive sex scandals.

A report by askmen.com on the top 10 examples of inappropriate behavior found that most were driven from office, such as Mark Foley, the Florida congressman accused of sending explicit messages to young male pages; Larry Craig, the Idaho congressman who unsuccessfully employed the "wide stance" defense after being arrested for lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport bathroom; and former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1987, who after initially denying an extramarital affair ill-advisedly challenged reporters to help prove his innocence.

"Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored," he told a press conference.

The media accepted the challenge and eventually wound up with a picture of model Donna Rice sitting on his lap aboard the yacht Monkey Business, sinking Mr. Hart's campaign.

Sexual scandals cross party lines and political ideologies. Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats alike have been taken down by or bounced back from them.

The public also has reacted with ambivalence, despite a 2011 survey by Public Religion Research Institute that reported 68 percent of Americans feel officials who lie about immoral sexual acts should resign.

Perhaps the public - and the media - should be paying more attention to candidates' voting records than their bedroom behavior.

This look-the-other-way approach certainly prevailed in the past, when such accounts as President Thomas Jefferson's involvement with his slave Sally Hemmings were kept private.

The press also had a wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude toward former President John F. Kennedy's reported dalliances with Marilyn Monroe and others, and even let former President Dwight D. Eisenhower off the hook regarding his relationship with Kay Summersby, his chauffeur and secretary.

Of course, Presidents Jefferson, Kennedy and Eisenhower, and countless others, were fortunate enough to carry on in a world before digital cameras, email, Twitter and 24-hour news cycles.

Their political careers and reputations - at least at the time - survived. Time will tell if Spitzer and Weiner will avoid that scrutiny and return to office.

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