The Case of the Cursed Congressional Seats

Dec 10, 2008 1:28pm

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports: Before Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich took office in 2002 on a platform of changing business as usual in the Illinois state governor’s office and kicking the corrupt Gov. George Ryan — currently serving a six-year prison term — he was a U.S. Congressman for six years from Chicago, Illinois’s 5th district.

And if you look at it from a completely unscientific, totally whimsical, circumstantial perspective, maybe that’s where his problems started.

It may just be that some Congressional seats are cursed.

Witness: Blagojevich took the 5th District seat, most recently held by soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, from Rep. Michael Flanagan, a one-term Republican blip in the otherwise blue sea of Chicago. Flanagan had taken the seat from Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, who held the seat for 36 years from 1959 thru 1995, when he became embroiled in the House post office scandal and served jail time before being pardoned by President Clinton.

Don’t underestimate the value of franking.

Could it be that Blagojevich caught the corruption bug — assuming, of course, that the charges against him are accurate, in the House?

There is more evidence to back the cursed Congressional seat theory.

Take Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who served for 11 years before being chased out of office after his inappropriate text message relationship with former House pages was discovered.

Foley resigned from office in 2006 and was replaced by Rep. Tim Mahoney, who was defeated in his bid for reelection this November after allegations of an extramarital affair and payoffs to a staffer surfaced.

Over to the Golden State, where California Democrat Gary Condit, a cofounder of the powerful centrist Democrat group the Blue Dogs, lost his bid for reelection to the House in 2002 after becoming embroiled in a national furor surrounding the search for missing intern Chandra Levy from Modesto, California. Condit admitted to an affair with Levy, but was never implicated in her murder, which remains unsolved.

Condit took over his Central Valley Congressional seat from another Democrat, Tony Coelho, who was an up and comer and the number three Democrat in the House when he resigned his seat in 1989 amid reports that he failed to report $100,000 in junk bonds that had been bought for him by a savings and loan executive.

Coelho went on to Chair Al Gore’s 2000 Presidential campaign until resigning after the Democratic primary for health reasons.

Not all lawmakers tainted by a cursed House seat are forced from office.

Sen. David Vitter apologized in 2007 when phone records in the DC Madam prostitution ring case indicated he had been a customer. And he got away with barely a slap on the wrist from the Senate Ethics Committee.

Vitter’s indiscretions as documented in the DC Madam case took place while he was a Congressman from Louisiana. He had taken the seat over from Rep. Bob Livingston, the heir apparent to Newt Gingrich to become Speaker of the House in 1994 and an outspoken critic of President Clinton’s adultery — until it was discovered that Livingston himself had engaged in the practice. Livingston resigned his seat in 1998 and Vitter won the race to replace him.

The curses are fickle, however, and not all seats seem to be infected. There are plenty of Congressmen who resign under a cloud with no precedent in their district and no apparent effect on their successor. Also, the curse seems not to last longer than two Congressmen.

And that’s good news for Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel was a rising star in the House Democratic caucus before he left to join the Obama administration. Emanuel’s was the same seat inhabited by Rostenkowski and, more recently, Blagojevich.

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