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Washington — Political observers attribute the various scandals to the same factors that have led other politicians into the halls of shame: arrogance, insularity and just plain loneliness.
“Anyone who wants to run for Congress has to be a little bit crazy, and that includes Jewish members of Congress,” said a longtime Capitol Hill staffer who has worked for a number of Jewish lawmakers – none tinged by scandal.
The perpetual fundraising, unfettered accolades from supporters and the rarity of staffers who push back when a boss crosses the line insulate lawmakers from reality checks, according to a number of Hill staffers. The rigors of living one’s life under the constant glare of media scrutiny may also be a factor.
“When people are separated from their families for a long period of time, things occur that wouldn’t necessarily occur if your family was there,” said Robert Wexler, a former congressman who described his first months in Washington as hellish, eventually leading to his decision to move his family north so he could spend more time with them.
The move was not without a price. In 2008, Wexler came under fire when it was revealed he no longer maintained a residence in his Florida constituency.
“Eventually, your political opponent will claim you are of Washington,” he said.
Sex scandals have not always sounded the death knell for political careers.
Frank continued to serve in Congress for more than two decades after revelations that he patronized a male escort and then hired him as a personal aide. Weiner is leading in several recent polls, and has never polled lower than second since declaring his candidacy in May. And Spitzer enjoys a commanding lead over his Democratic primary opponent, Scott Stringer, the Jewish Manhattan borough president.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Lewis said. “They have a lot of work to do, but if I go back and think about Jewish tradition, you are encouraged to give people another chance.”
But the scandals have certainly exacted a price. Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a leading Democratic fundraiser, said the Weiner scandal was a factor in her decision to fundraise for one of his opponents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
“Because I am Jewish, because I am a Democrat and I am active in that arena, I see it as a tragedy” that Weiner and Spitzer are running again, Goldman said.
“There are many fine qualified candidates out there who do not come with the baggage,” she said. “Find another day job. It’s chutzpah.”