You didn’t need to be passionate about Sen. Larry Craig’s work on public land issues to be captivated by the Idaho Republican’s sex sting arrest controversy over the past few weeks.
And you don’t need to care about government whatsoever to get a few laughs from Kim Long’s new book, “The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals and Dirty Politics,” which goes on sale Sept. 25.
Long traces some of the biggest and most hilarious political scandals on American soil, actually dating even to before the country’s birth. It begins in 1670, when the colonial governor of New York, Francis Lovelace, publicly burned the paper votes of some Long Island towns that opposed a proposed tax increase.
Long said one of his favorite scandals involves the famously corrupt former Louisiana Gov. and Sen. Huey Long (the author stressed that, though he did spend part of his childhood in New Orleans, he is not related).
Huey Long, on whose career the book and film “All the King’s Men” was based, was involved in a “Bathroom Medal” incident in 1933. In the restroom at a fundraiser in New York, the Senator, rather than wait his turn for a urinal, “attempted to relieve himself between the legs of the man in front of him,” according to the book. “He missed, prompting retaliation from the unfortunate target.”
Long emerged from the restroom with a nasty shiner, and Collier’s Weekly, a magazine critical of the Senator, commemorated the event by creating a medal that grew so popular that copies were made for sale to the public. The medal’s engraving showed a fist rising out of a toilet to punch a fish, knocking a crown off the creature’s head. A Latin inscription translated to “by public acclaim for a deed done in private.”
The almanac spends about a half-page each on hundreds of scandals. It is not intended to be exhaustive, Long said — omitted, for instance, are the ongoing corruption scandal of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and the altercation between Capitol Police and then-Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) — but to hit the highlights of more than 300 years of corrupt politicians.
“Early on, I made the decision that I would make editorial choices, picking and choosing,” Long said. “I didn’t want to miss anything big, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to cover everything.
“I got one from every state, one from every party, even small parties. I said there had to be women, had to be African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and I got ’em all.”
Long dedicates his book to “the majority of politicians” who “behave ethically,” and he said in the interview that a “worst-case scenario in which 10 percent of politicians have been involved in wrongdoing is a positive, not a negative.”
“We should treat them with sympathy,” he said. “Even the guys who did things wrong didn’t do everything wrong.
“Huey Long, one of my favorite bad guys, built hospitals and helped poor people. He was almost a socialist. President Nixon did good things. He’s my favorite bad guy.”
But it’s hard not to be soured on politics by some of the scandals.
Another of Long’s favorite scandals belongs to former Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the maternal grandfather of future Massachusetts politicians John, Robert and Edward Kennedy.
Fitzgerald was running for re-election in 1914 when one of his political opponents took out a newspaper ad saying he would give a speech titled “Great Lovers: From Cleopatra to Toodles.”
Nobody got the reference but Fitzgerald, according to the book: Toodles was the nickname of a girl rumored to be the married mayor’s girlfriend, and “the threat of public disclosure was enough to prompt his exit from the race.”
While many of the cases involve illicit sex or using public office for private financial gain, most involve a wrinkle or two; for instance, there’s the scandal involving David Friedland, a former state Senator from New Jersey.
Facing a seven-year prison sentence for taking kickbacks from a Teamsters union fund, Friedland faked his own death in 1985. He was presumed drowned from a scuba diving accident in the Bahamas, but it turned out he had hidden extra air tanks near the site of the dive. Friedland was discovered in the Maldive Islands three years later and given a 15-year sentence.
There are hundreds more stories, and Long said he hopes his book will have a shelf life of a couple years and that he can then write a second edition that, like the first, will be intended to amuse.
“Forget civics, forget the right and the need to vote,” Long said. “For my own amusement and the amusement of my readers, the characters I chose had less to do with politics and more to do with human nature. … Call it bathroom reading, but I think it should work.”