Condit letter has no apology, changes few opinions
CERES, Calif (AP) – Rep. Gary Condit and his aides reportedly rewrote his letter to constituents two dozen times before it arrived in mailboxes Thursday as part of a media blitz to try to save his political career.
District residents, however, said he should have kept on trying.
”This doesn’t change my opinion about anything,” said Jacqeline Elrich, a 33-year-old Modesto homemaker and former Condit supporter who picked up the letter at the local post office. An independent, she called it a perfunctory step any politician would take.
Other constituents agreed, saying Condit’s letter about the disappearance of 24-year-old Modesto resident Chandra Levy, a former Washington, D.C. intern, did nothing to draw their future support.
”It’s his responsibility to be morally upright and not get involved in these kinds of situations,” said Sarah Fiechtner, a 19-year-old Modesto Republican, who said she would not vote for Condit. ”I think it really affects his leadership abilities.”
Also, said Harlan Brock, a 49-year-old father of three in Ceres, Condit is still hiding something.
”I think he has more involvement than he says he has,” said Brock, who said he supported Condit before but not any more. ”If you’re innocent, why do you wait so long to prove it?”
Condit’s carefully crafted three-page letter lacks the contrition and explanation that could have mended his battered relationship with voters, political scientists said.
Constituents and analysts wondered why Condit waited so long to speak publicly found no answer in the letter. Neither did they get the apology they expected.
Condit, who mailed more than 200,000 copies of the letter Wednesday, said he has answered every question police asked him about Levy, who was last seen April 30. He wrote he ”has not been silent with those in charge of finding Chandra.”
Late Thursday afternoon, ABC-TV reporter Connie Chung said Condit told her, ”No one in Washington has been more cooperative than myself.”
That’s ”too little, too late” to keep his 29-year political career afloat, said Eve Epstein, a New York-based communications expert who helps government and corporate leaders refine their images. ”The public is going to view this as entirely self-serving.”
Pepperdine University political scientist Stanley Moore called a letter a good idea but said Condit ”should have apologized for his behavior and apologized to his district for having embarrassed them with his behavior.”
In the letter, Condit acknowledged ”my share of mistakes” but did not say whether he had an affair with Levy. The congressman admitted to an affair in an interview with investigators last month, a police source has said. Condit told Chung they had a five-month relationship.
Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino, a Democrat like Condit, said Condit should have explained ”his behavior in more detail. The people want an explanation of his actions after she disappeared.”
Some constituents, however, said they still supported their longtime congressman. At a pro-Condit rally in Merced, a Central Valley town 40 miles south of Ceres, Lucille Mejia said, ”I don’t have a need to know what Gary did with Chandra Levy. We’re not voyeurs, we don’t need to know.”
In seclusion since early August, Condit emerged from his Ceres home to tape the interview with Chung. He also already been interviewed by People magazine and has other interviews arranged with a Sacramento TV station, a local newspaper and Newsweek.
Condit’s claims of cooperation with authorities and reminders of what he has done for constituents may not be enough, said Joel Aberbach, a UCLA political scientist.
”If I were one of his constituents I’d be pretty distressed to find out that he isn’t the person that he said he was for so long, and no letter can overcome that,” Aberbach said.
First elected to the Central Valley congressional district in 1989, Condit has long attracted solid majorities, drawing votes from Democrats as well as Republicans who appreciate his centrist positions. His post-disappearance conduct has provided an opening to opponents, but few serious candidates have emerged.
That’s going to change, however, said Luke Thompson, a 21-year-old chef in Modesto.
Taking a break with two co-workers, Thompson, a Republican, said Condit was ”done for. I don’t know any Republicans who are going to vote for him now.”
Not only is Condit’s Republican support evaporating – state Senate Democrats are drawing new congressional district lines that would divide ”Condit Country” and put his hometown of Ceres in a district that would include heavily Democratic Stockton.
That may be the only way for the Democrats, who need only six more seats to take control of the House of Representatives, to preserve what’s left of Condit’s seat, for either him or a successor, Moore said.
”The Democrats are going to need to pick up every seat that they can and if they lose Gary Condit’s seat, it gives the Republican party a distinct advantage,” Moore said.
While Condit has said through aides that he will seek re-election, his letter to constituents does little to help him, Moore said.
In 1998, at the height of the controversy surrounding President Clinton’s relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, Condit criticized Clinton for not being open enough. Now, however, Condit is being compared to Clinton and found wanting.
”Gary Condit is no Bill Clinton,” Epstein said. ”He’s no comeback kid.”
Associated Press reporter Kiley Russell contributed to this report.
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