Public Inferno Over Mayor's Not-So-Private Photos Results in Recall

Her private photos caused a firestorm; she was recalled in narrow vote.

Feb. 27, 2008 — -- Carmen Kontur-Gronquist, the mayor of Arlington, Ore., whose personal photos of her posing on a firetruck caused a firestorm in the small town, was removed from office Monday in a narrow recall election, 142-139.

Not every citizen of Arlington, a town of fewer than 600 residents, had kind words for the town's first female mayor as the controversy played out.

The 42-year-old single mom faced attacks because of a photograph of her — taken years before she became mayor — clad in a black bra and underwear, posing on a local firetruck.

Earlier this year, some citizens found the photo and a few others like it on Kontur-Gronquist's MySpace page. In January, Kontur-Gronquist spoke to ABC News about the controversy that sparked comment nationwide.

"I took this office," Kontur-Gronquist said, "and those photos have nothing to do with me and my abilities as being mayor."

Some citizens disagreed. When asked what kind of job she had done as mayor, school board member Grant Wilkins said, "Questionable. I have some reservations about some of her decision making."

"I think everyone has to ask … in light of what has happened, 'Is this a representation of what we want as a community?'" said Wilkins, who wants the mayor to leave office.

"The pictures were taken in a public facility and it's not right," Wilkins said. "She's associated these pictures with being mayor. That's not the representation that I want to see. People aren't laughing with us, they are laughing at us."

Just 'Joking Around'

At a council meeting in January, Kontur-Gronquist first heard of the plans by some residents to remove her via a petition and a recall election.

Kontur-Gronquist said at the time that using the photos to try to remove her from office was "low."

"It's cruel," she said. "It doesn't only affect me, it affects my family, it affects the citizens in the community."

The photos date back to August 2004, well before she ever imagined becoming mayor. Kontur-Gronquist says they were taken after a day at the beach with a friend who was a volunteer firefighter.

"We were swimming and sunbathing and whatever, you know, what girls do," she said. "And so she wanted to stop in and take pictures. … We'd just came off of the beach, and, so we took some pictures. We did have permission from the fire chief at the time."

Then, Kontur-Gronquist says, her friend suggested that she pose on the firetruck.

Kontur-Gronquist says her first reaction was "I'm not getting up there," but she had been considering entering a "contest about fitness and women" for Sports Illustrated magazine, so she changed her mind.

"I said, "Oh, what the hell?'" she recalled. "So the pictures were taken. Did I send them in? No."

Why not?

"I didn't think they were good enough!" she said. "It was fun. … It was really joking around."

Kontur-Gronquist doesn't think the photos are tawdry. "They didn't mean to be provocative. They really meant to show, at the time, the shape that I was in," she said.

Private Becomes Public

Later, Kontur-Gronquist said, a relative set her up with a MySpace page; relatives were hoping it might turbo-charge the single mom's social life.

"About a week later, she calls up, she goes, 'You've got a MySpace page.' And I said, 'Oh, cool.' So, the other family members said, 'You know, you could use it as a dating page.'"

Kontur-Gronquist said she's not Internet savvy, so it was family members who uploaded photos to her page, including the ones on the firetruck. She thought nothing of it until she got a call on vacation early this year. City Hall had been receiving complaints.

"I had no clue that it would cause such a negative reaction, or upset my community," she said. "I called my council members and apologized."

Kontur-Gronquist admitted that she should have educated herself about MySpace.

"Everyone is entitled to their own private life but when your private life spills over into public viewing not everyone is going to be in favor of it," said Alice Courtney, a resident of Arlington and a City Council member.

For a while, it looked like the feelings about the photos might die down, until Kontur-Gronquist got word that "somebody had been dispersing them, had ran them off and taken them through town, handing them out,"

"It was a cruel thing that they did," she said. "But I am not gonna sit down, I am gonna try to finish out my term."

Kontur-Gronquist's term would have ended in January 2009; she had been serving while working full time at the town's health clinic because in Arlington, the job of mayor is an unsalaried position.

Wilkins said he gets "pretty emotional" at the suggestion that the photos aren't that salacious and aren't a big deal.

"She's an elected official of the city of Arlington," he said. "She represents the citizens. She's brought negative publicity. The people don't deserve it."

'You're Not a Quitter'

But some of the people didn't seem to mind. They were proud of her.

They say that, "You do have a life. Just because you have a political seat, it doesn't mean that you are not a person, that you don't have a personal life," said Kontur-Gronquist. "And I do believe that."

Kontur-Gronquist says this has been "very trying" for her 18-year-old daughter, Julianne, "but she does great."

"This whole last week, this whole fiasco, and she had her senior project, and she aced it with an A minus," Kontur-Gronquist said. "Julianne says, 'Mom, you're not a quitter.' She always told me that, you know."

In fact, her daughter helped put together Kontur-Gronquist's MySpace page, but now Kontur-Gronquist said, "I think I am pretty savvy at it, to be honest with you."

Kontur-Gronquist has spent nearly entire her life as a proud citizen of Arlington and didn't walk away from the fight. She said lots of people told her, "Don't you quit now, don't you step down."

"I'm not stepping down," she told ABC News. "They're going to have to drag me out of here." It turns out that they did.

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