Against the Odds

Mark Sanford & More Political Scandal Survivors of 2012 (PHOTOS)

From Vito Lopez to Marion Barry, seven officials who survived public shaming and reclaimed electoral success.

Mic Smith

Photos clockwise from top left: Brendan Smialowski / AFP-Getty Images; Mark Humphrey / AP; Jacquelyn Martin / AP; Barry Chin / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The heightened media scrutiny of a modern campaign can be brutal—but some politicians manage to emerge unscathed. From Vito Lopez to Marion Barry, seven officials who survived public shaming and reclaimed electoral success.

Mic Smith/AP

Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford has won the Republican nomination to take over one of South Carolina’s empty seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Yes, that Mark Sanford. The Palmetto State’s former governor fell from grace (and office) in 2009 after he disappeared on a now-infamous hike of the Appalachian Trail that actually turned out to be a trip to Buenos Aires to visit his Argentine mistress. It’s hard to believe that Sanford would ever show his face in politics again after that very public scandal, but nearly five years later he’s dusted himself and thrown his hat back in the ring—and is actually off to a good start! Now that he’s secured the GOP nomination, Sanford will face comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, in a special election this May to reclaim the seat he held before becoming governor.  

Mark Humphrey / AP

Scott DesJarlais

This month, Rep. Scott DesJarlais proved for a second time that personal scandals are no match for his campaigning skills. The Tennessee physician rode the Tea Party wave to the House of Representatives in 2010, despite disturbing allegations, revealed by drudged-up divorce filings, that he’d been abusive to his now-ex wife. According to the documents, DesJarlais’s behavior included “dry firing a gun” outside her bedroom door, “holding a gun in his mouth for three hours,” and other threatening acts: “shoving, tripping, pushing down, etc.” Given his dramatic past, it wasn’t shocking when the scandals continued into DesJarlais’s first term. During his campaign for reelection, phone transcripts from a 2000 conversation revealed that a then-married DesJarlais had struck up a sexual relationship with a patient of his, impregnated her, and then pressured her into getting an abortion. Subsequently released court papers from his divorce furthered the impression of the anti-abortion rights, family values politician as a philandering hypocrite, as he acknowledged conducting at least four extramarital affairs and his wife having two mutually agreed upon abortions of her own. Salacious as all of this might have been, none of it mattered. The Democratic Party failed in its attempt to defeat DesJarlais by publicizing the documents—he secured a second term Nov. 6.

Yuri Gripas / Reuters-Landov (FILE)

Jesse Jackson Jr.

Jesse Jackson Jr. was not in his Chicago precinct on election night. Indeed, he wasn’t in the city he represents at all. The Illinois congressman and namesake son of the famed civil-rights leader presumably celebrated his reelection at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, where he’s reportedly been receiving treatment for bipolar disorder and depression for several months. Not only was Jackson totally absent from the campaign—not to mention his job—throughout the entire race, he was being probed by the FBI and federal prosecutors for potential misuse of congressional funds, while the House Ethics Committee continued to investigate whether he’d offered former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich money in hopes of being appointed to what once was Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. Still, for voters in Illinois’s 2nd Congressional District, the decision was easy. Jackson won his 10th term by a landslide. Whether the plea deal he’s reportedly negotiating will allow for him to use it, however, remains to be seen. But despite winning reelection, Jackson won’t be sticking around in the House: he resigned the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and a special election will be held for his seat.

Mike Groll / AP (FILE)

Vito Lopez

New York state Assemblyman Vito Lopez lost his committee chairmanship and his position as Brooklyn Democratic boss after female staffers accused him of sexual harassing, groping, and kissing them. But he didn’t lose his seat in the New York Legislature. The Democrat grabbed 89 percent of the vote in his bid for reelection against 26-year-old Republican Richy Garcia.

Barry Chin / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

John Tierney

Rep. John Tierney scraped past Republican opponent Richard Tisei by a single point this Election Day, just barely winning an eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Massachusetts Democrat’s longtime political career was almost scuppered when he became embroiled in an off-shore gambling scandal this summer. From the start, Tierney maintained he had no knowledge of, or anything to do with, the illegal gambling ring Tierney’s wife and her brother, Bob Eremian, were being indicted for running out of Eremian’s Caribbean home. The Boston Globe attributed Tierney’s win in the face of controversy to his political accomplishments and Massachusetts voters’ ability to differentiate between the two.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP (FILE)

Michael Grimm

Hurricane Sandy was only the last in a series of challenges Staten Island’s own Rep. Michael Grimm faced in his bid for a second term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Republican fought a heated battle to protect his seat against Democratic challenger Mark Murphy and won, but not without any smudges on his record. During the race, Grimm was the subject of an FBI investigation into allegations that his 2010 congressional campaign had accepted contributions over the legal limit and from noncitizen donors via Ofer Biton, a former aide to a prominent Israeli rabbi, in exchange for helping Biton obtain a green card. Despite Murphy’s effort to use the FBI investigation against Grimm, the incumbent prevailed.

Seth Wenig / AP (FILE)

Tim Bishop

Rep. Tim Bishop almost lost it all for a bar mitzvah. Then again, it was one hell of a bar mitzvah. During his campaign for a sixth term, the congressman from New York was scrutinized over a campaign contribution from a constituent whom he’d helped obtain a permit to display backyard fireworks at his son’s coming-of-age celebration. Bishop’s Republican opponent, Randy Altschuler, called for an ethics investigation into the exchange, arguing that Bishop illegally accepted (and potentially solicited) a $10,000 donation in exchange for the permit. Bishop vehemently denied the accusations, even putting out campaign ads calling his opponent “despicable.” Altschuler may have gotten under Bishop’s skin, but Suffolk County voters weren’t fazed. They happily handed Bishop a sixth congressional term.

Bonnie Jo Mount / The Washington Post via Getty Images (FILE)

Marion Barry

Finally, there’s Marion Barry, D.C.’s former “mayor for life,” who wrote the book on surviving a scandal. After 31 years in elected office and indiscretions ranging from drug addiction to tax evasion, extramarital affairs, and even imprisonment, the 76-year-old was reelected to the U.S. capital’s City Council this year to serve a fifth term.