New York voters head to the polls Tuesday to pick their candidates for mayor. This election season has been particularly tawdry, with candidates Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer both dealing with sex scandals. Former Congressman Weiner is trailing behind Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, and Bill Thompson, but he wasn’t always.
In April he was second behind the perceived shoe-in: Quinn. It wasn’t until yet another woman, Sydney Leathers, came out of the woodwork that people finally soured on him.
Meanwhile, Spitzer’s campaign for comptroller has been less bumpy. Despite having sex with prostitute Ashley Dupre, he is faring well in the polls: following Scott Stringer by only two percentage points.
The campaign trail hasn’t been easy for these gentlemen, but its been easier than most people expected. Their relatively impressive poll numbers given their scarred reputations suggest that voters care less about sex scandals than ever before.
Maybe it's New York: an enclave known for its liberalism, open mindedness, and vibrant counterculture. But consider Mark Sanford’s recent congressional victory in conservative South Carolina, with mistress Maria Belen Chapur at his side.
Whoa is right.
Maybe it's just that more voters are skeptical of the prestige of politicians, so it stands to reason that voters expect their politicians to mess up. More voters may even identify with the man caught with his hand in the cookie jar, as increasing rates of divorce and infidelity are the new norms. Research by political scientist Scott Basinger even shows that clear-cut financial scandals are harder to shake than murky sexual ones.
Political vindication seems to result from a combination of circumstance, voter impulse, financial backing, legacy, image, and charisma. So, for future politicians that may be marred by an extramarital affair: life after a sex scandal is possible for some. Here's how your predecessors tried to make nice.
How well-crafted your apology is will make or break you. If you appear sincere and straightforward, voters will take you seriously. Bill Clinton’s apology was masterful: he was honest, but careful to insert that his testimony was “legal accurate” despite his omission of the affair, which impugns the credibility of the investigation as a whole.
He then politely tells everyone to mind their business and move on. After all, the strength of a nation is more important than one man’s private life. Well played, Mr. President.
2. Acknowledge Wrongdoings
Don’t pretend it didn’t happen because we all know it did. It’s best to be forthcoming, as Spitzer cleverly shows in his campaign ad.
3. Have a Forgiving Wife
It is easier to forgive the lying cheater if the wife does first. Huma Abedin stood beside her husband in a hasty press conference once Sydney Leathers revealed that she too had photos of Weiner’s weiner.
In a rare appearance, Abedin told voters that she knew that more women were in the fray but that she still supported and loved her husband, and was ready to move on. In doing so, she tacitly suggested that voters should, too.
4. Either Humiliate Or Humanize the Mistress
The mistress can swiftly become the ravenous social climber who took advantage of a stressed, lonely man. The obnoxious Leathers fits that mold; from a televised $40,000 plastic surgery bout to a lackluster porn debut satirizing the affair, she’s easy to hate. And let’s not even talk about the HIV scare.
Or, one can take the Mark Sanford approach, and uphold your mistress as a loving, intelligent being that fulfills an emotional void lacking in your marriage.
Either way, best to remember: it's not you, it's them.
5. Be Patient
We're forgetful. Our attention spans are cut by social media or aimed at a flailing economy, an intervention in Syria, or the next Beyonce single. Its difficult to maintain a long-lasting memory of minor discretions when student loan payments are due.
The next “big thing” is always around the corner. We'll forget your mistakes; just make sure that, in the process, we don't forget you too.