Move over, Sam and Cokie; council parses political privacy

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With the most private details of President Clinton’s life broadcast on network TV, and with media dredging up embarassing facts about Congress members, The Malibu Times asked City Council members for their views on life in the proverbial fish bowl.

“I guess the bottom line is, it’s his business and his wife’s business — his family’s business,” said Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn. The reason Clinton’s affair is in the spotlight, she offered, is not because he’s president, since past presidents have also strayed without creating such a fuss. He’s being exposed because his political enemies are playing hardball. “If they don’t win at the polls, then they get him another way.”

However, Van Horn says she does not deny what Clinton did was wrong. “Everybody wants everybody to be ethical, moral and honest. That’s a given. Is everybody there? I don’t think so . . . I think [Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky] is basically a personal matter,” she concluded.

Councilman Tom Hasse disagreed. He says Clinton used his public office to secure sexual favors and, to make matters worse, he later tried to cover up his actions. “Governing is hard enough without the top government official in the country exercising what is, at best, extremely poor judgment and, at worst, perjury, subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice,” he said.

Hasse says he does not mean to suggest the public has a right to know everything about a politician’s personal life. “No, I do not believe that every government official is an open book to the public. There are private matters unrelated completely to public office.” For instance, according to Hasse, if Clinton, while vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard, had a “discreet” affair with a woman his age who was not a public employee, then the matter should remain private.

Asked whether good people are discouraged from running from public office because politicians are held to too high a standard, Hasse responded, “Absolutely. I know many people here in Malibu who are not running for City Council because they will not go through the name calling and grueling exposure.”

Although Mayor Joan House said she believes “our feet are held to the fire all the time [in Malibu], I haven’t met any person who really wanted to run for office and did not, mention [being held to too high a standard] as a reason.”

House agreed with Hasse that some things about a politician’s personal life should be out of bounds, but she refused to give examples and would not discuss Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky. Neither did Councilman Harry Barovsky, who said, “It’s a sex scandal. I’m not going to comment on other people’s sex lives.”

Councilman Walt Keller could not be reached for comment.