Is a toad not a toad if it’s a member of Congress, insisting that he isn’t a toad, to a woman he’s emailing in the hopes of a more “intimate” acquaintance?
Callahan threw down the gauntlet in her initial posting on the site, asking — perhaps semi-rhetorically — for someone to prove to her that not all men browsing Craigslist looked like toads. Lee stepped up to the challenge, but not before trying a little subterfuge. The then 46-year-old congressman shaved several years off his age and changed his profession to “lobbyist” before writing back and describing himself as a fit, fun, classy guy who was certainly not a toad.
As proof, he sent along a snapshot of himself in a classic, if not boring, outfit of a powder-blue polo with light-colored slacks. When Callahan wrote back, opining that the shot was reminiscent of a JCPenney ad, Lee upped the ante. He sent her the type of image familiar to anyone who’s ever had a MySpace page: the bathroom-mirror flex shot.
If not for some curious decisions on Lee’s part, it might all have ended there. Taking the photos at all was a questionable decision, but doing so and having his face so clearly visible was a head-scratcher. Also, though he took great pains to construct a cover story and false identity, he sent the emails from an address that contained his real name.
In any event, Callahan seemed less than impressed by the pecs, asking if Lee sent shirtless pics to every woman he corresponded with on Craigslist. She later said that she was joking, but several one- and two-line emails later, Callahan claimed that Lee asked her to send “racy” photos of herself, which prompted her to cool their email friendship. After doing some Internet research, she discovered his true age, profession, and marital status. And after wrestling with whether to sit on this info or save other potential Craigslist users from the site of Lee’s abs, she sent the correspondence to Gawker.
Lee resigned that day, using the boilerplate “I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family” speech that so many politicians have perfected. He’s faded back into the relevant obscurity from which he came — mentions of his name now usually prompt a “Who? Cliff Lee? He’s on Craigslist?”
A special election held May 24 saw Democrat Kathy Hochul winning election to Lee’s vacated seat. Nearly four months later, the tables were turned when Republican Bob Turner was elected to fill the seat of similarly disgraced New York Representative Anthony Weiner.
It’s possible that Weiner took note of Lee’s transgressions and attempted to not make the same mistakes. Weiner, at least at first, seemed to make sure that his steamy photos were taken below the neck, and, in some cases, even lower. That didn’t help him in the long run, either, but hey — the effort was there.
Erin Wright is the Philadelphia editor for Yahoo! Local. Before joining Yahoo!, she worked at NewsWorks, the website of WHYY, Philly’s PBS affiliate.