The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mahoney Is a Warning to Dems

If the polls are correct, Democrats might well find themselves with Barack Obama in the White House and increased advantages in both houses of Congress come next year. If so, they might well take a painful but valuable lesson from Representative Tim Mahoney of Florida in what they must not do with their mandate.

Back in 2006, Mahoney, a Democrat, won Florida’s 16th Congressional District after six-term Republican incumbent Mark Foley resigned in the wake of a scandal. Foley sent sexually explicit messages via the Internet to underage male pages. Democrats considered Mahoney’s win a major coup because the majority of voters in the district are Republican.

Mahoney campaigned two years ago to return morals and family values to Washington. ABC News recently revealed Mahoney began an extramarital affair at the time with Patricia Allen, a campaign aide. Mahoney fired Allen this year and ended up paying her a $121,000 settlement, presumably to keep her quiet about their affair and avoid a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Now Politico reports this apparently was not Mahoney’s only adulterous liaison. A person close to the Mahoney campaign confirmed a second affair to the Associated Press last night. The other relationship was with a high-ranking official in Martin County, part of Mahoney’s district, conducted over a similar period as his affair with Allen.

This is potentially serious because Mahoney was busy lobbying the Federal Emergency Management Agency at around this same time for a $3.4 million reimbursement for Martin County for damage caused by hurricanes in 2004. FEMA approved the money in late 2007.

This all comes as a blow to Mahoney, who boasted of having a “comfortable lead” in what most pollsters insisted was a tight race for re-election this November.

Mahoney issued a statement that read, in part, “I take full responsibility for my actions and the pain I have caused my wife and daughter. No marriage is perfect, but our private life is our private life and I am sorry that these allegations have caused embarrassment and heartache.”

The bottom line is that Mahoney’s “apology” does not ring true. He sounds more sorry about being caught than doing anything wrong. It may be true in our post-Clinton world of politics that extramarital affairs are not, in and of themselves, grounds for dismissal. However, there are larger issues at play here that Mahoney refused to address altogether.

Instead, he struck a defiant tone, insisting his campaign would go on and expressing faith that voters would continue to support him. He was adamant that he “did not violate his oath of office or any law.” He even went so far as to suggest the various revelations surfacing against him were “politically motivated.”

Mahoney has called for an investigation into his own conduct by the House Ethics Committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called for an inquiry. This is good because if Democrats are smart, they will throw Mahoney under the first bus that comes along – and the bigger and the longer a streak he leaves on the pavement the better.

It is not breaking that way so far, at least locally in Florida. The Sarasota Herald–Tribune reports that Jim Stevens, Chairman of the Charlotte County Democratic Executive Committee, as well as other Democratic officials, are inclined to give Mahoney the benefit of the doubt.

With Democrats trying so hard to increase their majority in the House, it may be tempting to fight giving up the win of an unexpected Republican seat from two years ago but give it up is exactly what they ought to do. If what Foley did was bad enough to lose him his Congressional seat, Mahoney’s mistakes deserve the same.

The very worst thing Democrats could do at this point is to float some moral equivalence argument that suggests extramarital affairs between consenting adults are completely different from the stalkings of a pedophile. Sexual innuendo is not the issue here. The way Mahoney and Foley are all too similar is their insistence there is no real foul – that they are the victims of their accusers rather than the betrayers of their families and constituents – because “no real crime was committed.”

Both state and federal authorities ultimately cleared Foley of criminal wrongdoing but that did not save him with Florida voters. Mahoney should receive no better at their hands.

When one Party gains office as a reaction by voters to the wrongdoings of the other, there is nothing the successor Party can do to break the already fragile public trust more quickly than to engage in the exact same behaviors themselves.

In that sense, the Mahoney affair is a warning to a Democrats and an example in a microcosm of exactly what will happen to them if they do not deliver on the change their Presidential candidate has been promising.

“We wish this hadn't happened like this,” Joan Fischer, president of the Charlotte County Democratic Club. Nobody ever does but that is the way both opportunities and obstacles tend to happen. The trick is to maximize the former and minimize the impact of the latter by facing up to them instead of denying them or pretending they are something different.

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