Video Digest: March 28, 2008

In light of Spitzer's boondoggle, Meave Gallagher takes a look at other politicians behaving badly, particularly a wealth of juicy mayoral scandals around the U.S.: Kilpatrick, Newsom, Villaraigosa, Cianci, and Barry.

My goodness, but we’ve had some interesting political scandals this year. Juicy ones, too, with extramarital sex and misuse of public funds. Now, when I think about sex scandals, I assume the politician is a national one, a U.S. representative or senator, certainly presidents or perhaps a governor. Local politicians, though, even big- and/or capital-city mayors, are small potatoes. Who pays attention to mayors outside of their constituents?

We all do, when they’re caught with their hands in the city coffers, or around the waist of women they know are off-limits. Mayors, it seems, have the same big man complexes as any other politician: I rule the town, I make (or break) the rules.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit is the most recent figure of mayoral shame, arraigned this week on eight felony counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice. This is serious business, something the Detroit Free Press has been investigating for some time. The paper’s findings as of January are summarized here:

This is the barest outline of a mayorship brimming over with scandal. Kilpatrick, Detroit’s youngest mayor, son of Congressional Black Caucus Chair and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), naturally does not find the heap of trouble he appears to be sitting in particularly comfortable. He closed his 2008 State of the City speech on March 11 with a direct confrontation of the (umbrella) issue. To relate, imagine if George W. Bush had added a postscript to the State of the Union blaming The New York Times for his problems getting F.I.S.A. renewed.

Is there anything scandalous about your mayor? Mine is known as a playboy. Gavin Newsom, the 40-year-old boy mayor of San Francisco, has brought some unfamiliarly old-school style to city politics; in 1997, he was elected to the city’s board of supervisors as the sole heterosexual white man. Newsom has shown a predilection for blond women, having dated two since the end of his marriage (to a brunette!). Right, and he also had that affair in 2005 with his blond aide for commission appointments, who was also married to his campaign manager/deputy chief of staff. Whoops! Gavin seemed properly chastened when the whole thing came to light in early 2007.

Men across the Bay Area, however, weren’t so quick to forgive. In accordance with Burt Reynolds and the makers of Miller Lite, they found it reprehensible to have an affair with your friend’s partner. Thankfully, the boy mayor didn’t break any real laws; character flaws are best judged against the opposition in an election year, anyway.

Then there was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose affair with Telemundo reporter Mirthala Salinas was discovered after Ms. Salinas scooped the regional press with her story about the breakup of the mayor’s marriage, which she knew about because, you know, she was intimately involved with the mayor. And that’s not all!

(Note: For juicy mayoral gossip, it is only necessary to watch this video until about 6:35.)

Catch all that? Tell me, is it something about politics that brings out the cheat and the crook, or do people with those traits seek out positions of power that allow them to cheat and steal? To his credit, Mayor Villaraigosa has been behaving with dignity since the scandal blew over; they even let him on television to discuss post-Super Tuesday politics without asking him one impertinent question. Then again, it was P.B.S., not exactly known for its muckraking.

No, 2007 wasn’t a great year for the Golden State. Rhode Island, the littlest state, had it much worse earlier in the decade. Throughout the 1990s its entire state government was an absolute cesspool of corruption. Some were calling it the most corrupt state in the union, and that was before Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci and Operation Plunder-Dome came to light in 2001.

Oh, Buddy. He pleaded no contest to that assault—he used an ashtray and a fireplace log—and resigned, as required by law. Seven years later he came roaring back, with a mayoral campaign that would give him 10 years in office before his next scandal. After being indicted on 27 charges of conspiracy, extortion, mail fraud, racketeering, and witness tampering (sound familiar?), he made fun of the investigation and subsequent trial, and then was acquitted of all but one teensy charge of conspiracy in 2002. Rhode Island Judge Ronald Lageux: “In this mayor’s two administrations, there has been more corruption in the city of Providence than in the history of this state.”

Buddy served five years in prison, and currently hosts a talk-radio show, and serves as “chief political analyst” for the local Providence A.B.C. affiliate. Everybody loves Buddy.

The citizens of Washington, D.C. love their misbehaving mayor as well. Of course, I mean Marion Barry. He served as the second mayor of D.C. from 1979 until 1990, when, as you know, an F.B.I. sting operation caught him smoking crack cocaine. Like Buddy Cianci, Mayor Barry was charged with 14 criminal counts—three felonies and 11 misdemeanors—but ended up serving six months from one conviction of not just a misdemeanor possession charge, but a previous misdemeanor charge, from November 1989. Crime absolutely pays when you’re in charge. Not even four years after his release from prison, D.C. voters elected Barry their fourth mayor. It was during the first year of his second term in office that Mayor Barry attended the Million Man March.

Why, you might ask, why would a city elect as its leader a known criminal? When there is incontrovertible proof that Mayor Barry smoked crack, the scourge of the streets, with a woman other than his wife, crack that he was able to purchase through his city salary? I don’t know. He won with 56 percent in 1994, too, 14 percent above his Republican opponent.

In more recent news, voters in D.C. elected Marion Barry to the D.C. Council as the Ward 8 representative in 2004. In October 2005, at a hearing at which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges from an I.R.S. investigation, Barry failed a mandatory drug test: he was positive for marijuana and cocaine. The misdemeanor charges resulted in a three-year probation sentence.

Lastly, I give you Jerry Springer, the face who launched a million chair fights. Before he invited you to tell your sister on live TV that you’ve been sleeping with her husband, her boyfriend, and her husband’s girlfriend—before all that, Jerry was a one-term mayor of Cincinnati. He was actually on the city council in 1974, when he got caught paying for a prostitute with a personal check; although he admitted it immediately, he still had to resign, though he regained his seat the following year. The council named him mayor in 1978. His 1982 run for Ohio governor was unsuccessful, though; perhaps his refreshing honesty wasn’t appreciated outside of the hometown.

Mayoral scandals, as I’ve noted, don’t usually make national news unless they’re especially shocking, or the mayor is from a big city; individually, mayors don’t hold much importance outside the cities they run. As for my own mayor’s charms, well, he certainly out-classed his opponents in the most recent mayoral election, but to be honest, I prefer Willie Brown. He cuts a much finer figure.

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