Modesto Bee editorial 8/12/2001: Congressman has violated the public trust

February 1, 2009 

condit

Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. looks on during a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, June 12, 2001. (Joe Marquette / The Associated Press)

This editorial was published in The Modesto Bee on Aug. 12, 2001

Gary Condit should resign.

His behavior since Chandra Levy disappeared more than three months ago has been abhorrent.

This paper — and the people he represents — have attempted to give Condit the benefit of the doubt, while urging him to speak publicly in detail about his involvement. He has refused to do that, even while disturbing details about his role have become public. Still Condit has offered no explanation, no defense, no remorse.

For 15 weeks, Condit has put his own interests ahead of the effort to find Levy. His self-absorption has been a lapse not only of judgment, but of human decency. With Levy's life at stake, Condit knowingly hindered — if not obstructed — the police investigation into her disappearance, letting the trail grow cold. "We didn't have all of the details (from Condit) for several weeks," Police Chief Charles Ramsey said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Condit is under federal investigation for alleged obstruction of justice. While showing little concern for the missing former intern, he has spun, stalled and stonewalled, refusing to face the media or his constituents — whose questions have been spurred in part by his own bizarre behavior. Last week, when Congress adjourned for its August recess, Condit came home and slid into seclusion.

All of this leads us to call for him to step down.

We make this call not because of Condit's many alleged affairs; if infidelity were all this story involved, that would be a matter for voters to sort out at the polls. Resignation is the proper course because Condit has irrevocably violated the public trust. He has abused his office, deceived his constituents and given Congress another black eye. Any contrition on his part now would be too little, too late, too forced and too calculated.

No one expects perfection from Condit or any other elected leader; legislators are human, as prone to flaws and failures as the people they represent. But we do expect politicians to be accountable for what they do or don't do. And when they make mistakes, we expect them to concede their errors, accept the consequences of their choices, and change their behavior.

We have not seen that with Condit. Rather, we have seen more than three months of delay, denial and duplicity — conduct that has brought disrepute on Condit himself and the district he represents.

Realizing that Condit should step down — that he no longer has the clout or respect to effectively represent this area — is difficult, even painful, for the people who have supported him for nearly three decades.

From his start on the Ceres City Council, to his work as a Stanislaus County supervisor, to his tenure in the state Assembly, to his 12 years in Congress, Condit won broad, bipartisan support. He was venerated for his down-to-earth accessibility, his ideological independence and his legendary constituent service. For most of his career as an elected official, we have supported him enthusiastically. We sometimes disagreed with him on policy issues, but we always believed his independent brand of politics served his San Joaquin Valley district well.

But a good record does not guarantee indefinite tenure in office. Too much has happened — and not happened — this year for him to remain this region's congressman.

If he refuses to resign, or worse, insists on running for re-election in November 2002, he deserves a resounding vote of no confidence from the residents of the 18th Congressional District.

This newspaper, which endorsed him in all of his previous contested elections, will almost certainly never endorse him again.

But we hope it doesn't come to that.

Condit can restore some of his honor and dignity. He can set aside his own ambitions now and do what is in the public interest: resign.

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