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2002: Scandals, Fallen Senator Dominate Headlines

Three Democratic Members’ names overshadowed the rest of Congress in Roll Call’s 2002 coverage: then-Reps. James Traficant (D-Ohio) and his legal troubles, Gary Condit (D-Calif.) and his connection to the disappearance of intern Chandra Levy, and then-Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who died in plane crash in October.

Wellstone’s death eclipsed all headlines that year. The Democrat, who was campaigning for re-election in 2002, died within days of the election along with his wife and daughter in a small plane en route to a funeral for Frank Rukavina, the father of Minnesota state Rep. Tom Rukavina (D).

“He was one of the very, very few who gave a voice to those in our country and around the world who have no voice,” former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) said of Wellstone.

Traficant was “convicted on 10 felony counts of bribery, racketeering and corruption charges that he traded his Congressional office for personal gain through an 18-year-long stream of kickbacks, bribes, gratuities and gifts.”

The Ohio Democrat was sentenced to an eight-year prison term following his expulsion from Congress. He also had to pay a $150,000 fine and $19,580 in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, not to mention an additional $96,000 in restitution for money his crimes netted.

Since Levy’s disappearance in May 2001, Condit tried to shed the allegations of an affair with the intern. After she went missing, details of their close relationship became a national story overnight. Though his popularity took a dramatic downturn following the incident, Condit still decided to run for re-election.

“The end is near. … It’s sad. Seeing Gary, it’s like watching a dead man walking,” said Dan Stevens, a Ceres, Calif., resident who backed Condit.

State Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D) pummeled Condit in the February primary.

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