Cogen sex scandal 'small potatoes' by today's standards

By Janet Stevens / The Bulletin

Published Aug 9, 2013 at 05:00AM

As political sex scandals go, the story of Jeff Cogen and Sonia Manhas is small potatoes. The chairman of the Multnomah County Commission (he) admitted recently to an 18-month affair with a policy adviser (she) in the county’s health department. She lost her job as a result of the affair; he, an elected official, refuses to quit.

When I was younger, I’d have sent the story to the “All Men Are Pigs” file.

Today, the picture of this and similar — they involve sex — stories in the news is far less clear. As I age, it seems, the world is far less absolute than it used to be.

Consider the case of Cogen and Manhas. Her firing is clearly unfair, it seems to me. Her bosses apparently refused to discuss her problems with her until she had signed a resignation letter; she was given no opportunity to make her case to them or to appeal their decision to ax her. He, meanwhile, lost a 4-1 vote of his fellow commissioners to boot him from office — something they were unable to accomplish unless he agreed to go willingly.

But after reading the various accounts of the Cogen/Manhas alliance, one comes away with the sense that if he used her, she equally used him. In a slew of emails, she asks him to push her boss on such things as tobacco policy; she lobbies hard for the creation of an office she wants to (and finally does) head. And so on. His wife, meanwhile, so far has remained silent on the subject.

Not so the wife of Anthony Weiner, former U.S. congressman from New York. He left the House of Representatives after having been caught lying about what ABC News called “risque online behavior with multiple women.”

Now, running for mayor of New York, Weiner’s been forced to admit that risque behavior did not end with his stint in Congress. Rather than undo the damage he had done, he only made it worse, acknowledging last month that he had had at least three similar affairs after leaving Washington, and after a People magazine story last summer in which he talked glowingly of his happy married life.

It’s the behavior of his wife, Huma Abedin, that puzzles me. She is, by all accounts, a particularly bright and accomplished woman, one who works as a top aide to Hillary Clinton. But, like Clinton in similar circumstances, she publicly announced that, while things might have been tough, she stands by her man. I’d be less uncomfortable with her posture if he hadn’t publicly humiliated her not once but twice with his antics. Where, I wonder, is her own sense of self worth in this sorry story?

Lucky New Yorkers. They have not one but two, and perhaps three, sets of scandalous behavior to keep them interested in their current election.

Eliot Spitzer resigned as governor of New York in March 2008 after being caught during a federal wiretap confirming a date with a prostitute. Now he’s running for comptroller — chief financial officer — of the city of New York. His decision naturally led to a thorough rehashing of his earlier problems.

Spitzer is lucky, though, at least where one of his five opponents is concerned. Kristin Davis is a former madam, for one thing. For another, she was arrested earlier this week, suspected of the illegal sale of a prescription drug. The most recent polling information I saw, from late last month, put Spitzer in a dead heat with a third candidate, Scott Springer, Manhattan borough president.

Compare Oregon’s Cogen with either Spitzer or Weiner and he comes off looking, if not like a paragon of virtue, not so completely terrible, either.

He’s certainly no worse than Oregon’s other two most scandalous officeholders. Bob Packwood was a fanny grabber of the old order and lost his seat in the U.S. Senate as a result. By today’s standards, his behavior looks kind of sad.

Worse, far worse, was the behavior of former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, a politician who finally was forced to admit to the sex abuse of a 14-year-old girl, though the story was not cast in those terms initially. That’s bad even by today’s standards and is surely worse than all the other men’s lack of control combined.

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