Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mahoney insulted the public

By Randy Schultz
Editor of the Editorial Page
Sunday, October 19, 2008

They never learn.

Despite all the history, despite all common sense, every politician caught in a sex scandal believes that he - and we're usually talking men - can tough it out. Last week, Tim Mahoney became the latest to find out that he couldn't.
You know the story. ABC News reported Monday that Rep. Mahoney, the first-term congressman from Palm Beach Gardens, had hired a mistress to work in his Washington office, fired her, and then paid her $121,000 to keep quiet about the whole thing. Later, The Post reported that Rep. Mahoney had had at least one other mistress, which apparently angered the first mistress and may have led to the breakup and payoff. The FBI is investigating whether Rep. Mahoney used campaign donations for the payoff. His attorney denies it.

Having been exposed as a louse and a hypocrite - his campaign material stressed "faith and family" - three weeks before the election, Rep. Mahoney might have been toast no matter what he did. He's a Democrat in the eight-county, Republican-majority district who got to Washington when Mark Foley got caught in his own scandal two years ago: sending X-rated e-mails to underage congressional pages. His only chance would have been to admit his louseness and hypocrisy, then answer every reporter's question until nothing more could come out. And come alone. Don't bring your wife. Be a man.

Of course, Rep. Mahoney did none of that. He appeared Tuesday morning only long enough to read the predictable statement of regret that he got caught. He said that "no marriage is perfect," a comment as heartless as it was trite. He sounded as though he were partially blaming his wife. Whom, of course, he brought along.

I can't explain why the wives agree to come. My theory is that the husband asks because he thinks that her appearance can save him. See, even though I'm a skunk, the little lady and I are going to work it out. So, I really hope that this doesn't influence your vote. Right.
On Friday, Rep. Mahoney is supposed to debate Republican challenger Tom Rooney at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Does Rep. Mahoney think that he can pull it off if he's not willing to talk about what will be on everyone's mind?

Johnson and Johnson set the gold standard for crisis response a quarter-century ago. After people died from swallowing poisoned Tylenol, the company pulled every pill. Understand, the problem wasn't even the company's fault. But Johnson and Johnson knew what was at stake. Because the company acted so swiftly and openly, the product and the company recovered quickly. The government required protective wrapping on lids of bottles containing everything from pills to juice.

Then there's Exxon, now ExxonMobil. After one of its tankers spilled 10 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989, the company CEO didn't arrive for three weeks. Exxon turned down the offer from a local fishing group to help contain the spill.

Most politicians read only the Exxon manual. Having insulted their family - in this case, Rep. Mahoney's wife and daughter - they insult their constituents by believing them to be stupid. Some voters may accept Rep. Mahoney's defense that his conduct was a "private matter," but most correctly will see that what these actions affected is his public role. Among other things, he put the mistress on his staff.

Monday morning, Rep. Mahoney had a strong lead and was all but reelected. By the end of the week, the polls had flopped. Rep. Mahoney didn't help himself much on Friday when he told George Bennett of The Post that it was OK to hire a mistress for his Martin County office because the affair was "intermittent." So, shouldn't she have worked part-time?

You can tell that Rep. Mahoney didn't test drive the answers he finally decided to give. At least he didn't sound quite as bad as John Edwards, who explained that his affair took place while his cancer-stricken wife was in remission. But did Rep Mahoney sound stupid? Yes. Why? They never learn.

Randy Schultz is the editor of the editorial page of The Palm Beach Post. His e-mail address is

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