It goes well beyond irony that anyone, after much hard-fought competition, would land an internship on DC's Capitol Hill only to wind up at the center of a sex-and-murder scandal. The Chandra Levy/Gary Condit relationship wound up stealing the majority of the national news cycle when the story broke in May 2001, supplanted as a headline only by the horror and tragedy of 9/11.
As a resident of the nation's capitol that summer, I got to see the story up close. There were lots of missing persons cases in the local news, but few lit up the airwaves like the ambitious young white woman who'd been dating a Congressman. It was a ripped from a Law & Order story. Less than a week after her last phone call to her parents, the leak came through that she'd been having an affair with Gary Condit, a Democratic representative from California, and the story trampoline jumped from network affiliate stations to the national evening news.
Condit's inital response was to insist that this was a private matter, that he had concerns for Levy, and that he was urging the police to do all they could to find her. When asked by the police if he'd been having a relationship with the intern, Condit, who was actually Levy's home representative, admitted that she'd spent the night at his Adams Morgan home and that they could infer what they liked from that, but that was as far as he would go with a response. Months later, in an interview with Connie Chung, Condit sounded evasive and over-coached:
CHUNG: May I ask you if it was a sexual relationship?
CONDIT: Well, Connie, I've been married for 34 years, and I've not been a perfect man, and I've made my share of mistakes. But out of respect for my family, and out of a specific request from the Levy family, I think it's best that I not get into those details about Chandra Levy.
There were few people who didn't think he'd had something to do with her disappearance after that, especially when he repeated his line about not getting "into those details," as if Levy were merely a public policy he didn't want to debate. Some analyzed his obviously careful word choices. At least to me, he seemed heartless and distant, but in the context of President Clinton's impeachment for a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, perhaps he was just trying not to get caught lying under oath. The mystery around Levy heightened when some analysts wondered publicly if Levy were pregnant, but nothing could be firmly established without a body.
If Condit looked guilty of something very extremely awful toward Chandra Levy, it was only exacerbated by the lack of any denouement, and this in turn was made possible by the shoddy work of the Metropolitan Police Department, who failed to find her remains for a full year, and even then, still didn't remove all of her body from Rock Creek Park (Horowitz, Hiram, and Moreno). What was available for forensic scientists at that point would never answer all of the questions reporters and the public had wanted answered the year earlier.
And yet, with year-old, forgotten-in-Rock-Creek-Park evidence, prosecutors are now ready to start the trial of Ingmar Guandique who allegedly assaulted other women in the park in spring of 2001. Guandique is picture perfect, an easy target for this charge, having hit the very unlucky trifecta of foreigner, working-class, and mentally ill—not a combination that bodes well for getting a great defense against mile-high stakes. This is especially the case when groups arguing for the passage of what became Arizona's immigration law SB1070 harped about Latinos as dangerous criminals in the midst of innocent Americans. But seeing how the Washington Post asserted the probability that Condit was not, in fact, her murderer (even if Guandique also is not), It made me ask, "where is Gary Condit these days?"
Condit, who lost his reelection bid in 2003, and who is still in the tailwinds of the scandal, is in that same Arizona. For a time he owned and managed two Baskin-Robbins stores before his franchisee licenses were revoked for non-payment to the parent company. He's sought two judgments against reporters for insinutating or stating that he was the killer in the case, one against Dominick Dunne (who I presume had some pretty decent lawyers) and one against the Sonoran News. Clearly, Gary Condit is a little pissed about not shaking the scandal off of him.
It's been a long time since Condit first ran for election on the slogan "A Good Example." I can only imagine what a long, long fall he's had since then, but I suppose it's preferable to being murdered. What hasn't been investigated well enough in all of this mess is the vulnerability of female interns to older, powerful men who can shape their lives, relationships, and careers, why hundreds of other people can go missing in urban spaces and not capture the public's imagination, and why it at least seems easier to prosecute some people for violent crime rather than others. I for one have a few suspicions as to why that is.
I'm very happy to be blogging for Bitch, and I hope to, with some looks at current and old political scandals, start some dialogue about power dynamics on the Hill, the news making machine, and gendered expectations for people involved in public policy and lawmaking. As the old slogan goes, "the personal is political." The reverse is also often true.