A little less than four years ago, then-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted to cheating on his wife with his Argentine mistress rather than hiking the Appalachian Trail, as he had said publicly.
He didn’t resign and wasn’t removed from office, but he did leave in disgrace.
It would appear former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., is trying to work that same magic. Two years after he resigned from Congress over a sexually suggestive picture he tweeted to a follower, he announced Wednesday he is officially vying to be the next mayor of New York City.
He unveiled his first ad, the first image of which is the former congressman with his infant son and wife, Huma Abedin. Later in the ad, he directly addresses the 2011 scandal:
“Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down, but I’ve also learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it my entire life, and I hope I get a second chance to work for you.”
You can add a third name to the pile of politicians working their way back into the public eye after lying low in the wake of sex scandals: John Edwards. The former U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate denied accusations he fathered a child with a filmmaker who worked with his 2008 presidential campaign for more than two years until finally admitting to it in 2010.
He hasn’t announced a bid for office, but he has reactivated his law license and started a speaking tour.
How is any of this possible? It wasn’t too long ago that scandals such as the ones that Sanford, Weiner, and Edwards endured were sure career-enders, but all three seem to be bouncing back, not long after scandal knocked them out.
“The news cycle speeds things up in terms of breaking news,” says Mark Arena of the blog The PR Verdict. “The rapid news cycle can also speed up recovery time. What might have taken, say, 10 or 15 years ago, a two- or three-year interval before you could return to public life, now, the news moves so quickly, you can actually go through a crisis, come out the other end, and recover in a faster time.”
Sex scandals just don’t have the impact they once did, either, he says.
“What really, truly scandalizes people?” Arena asks. “The language around what happened has been, ‘unwise,’ ‘letting people down.’ It hasn’t truly been the sort of language that would denote something catastrophic or completely unethical. These are all seen as lapses judgment rather than huge moral failings.”
Even so, Weiner’s campaign faces some rough sledding, Arena says. More than getting over the hurdle of the scandal that ended his political career, Weiner will have to contend with some formidable rivals in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.
One particularly tough opponent will be New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has collected about $600,000 in campaign funds, considerably more than any other contender.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.