Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y., resigned from Congress Wednesday evening in the wake of an embarrassing web posting that the married, two-term congressman had replied to a personal ad on Craigslist with a shirtless photo of himself.
Lee issued a statement announcing his resignation immediately, and his letter was read on the House floor shortly after 6 p.m.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff, and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness,” Lee said. “The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately.”
The story, posted on the website Gawker.com, reported that Lee had replied to a personal ad from a woman seeking a “financially and emotionally secure” man. Lee sent messages back and forth to the woman from his personal account, and told the woman that he was a divorced lobbyist and was 39. Lee is 46 and married with one child. Lee also sent photos of himself to the woman, including one where he was posing shirtless in a mirror. Lee does not appear to have met the woman, and she cut off contact with him after searching online and found out he had lied about his age and occupation.
Lee’s resignation is the second in the past year from Upstate New York. Lee’s Rochester-based 26th District borders the 29th District, where former Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y., resigned last March after allegations surfaced that he had sexually harassed a male staffer.
A wealthy businessman who was first elected in 2008, Lee was easily chosen to succeed retiring Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., even though Democrats tried to target the seat. The 26th District, which has changed several times in redistricting, has been represented by other influential Republicans, including Jack Kemp and Bill Paxon.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., has to first call for a special election to replace Lee, and once he does, it has to be held between 30 and 45 days from that date. When Massa resigned last year, then-Gov. David Paterson used that loophole to not hold a special election until Election Day.
One Republican name that immediately surfaced as a potential candidate was Carl Paladino, last year’s surprise, tea party-backed nominee for governor. The often-controversial Paladino lives near the district, and got 61 percent of the vote in the district. A source close to Paladino told National Journal that the wealthy businessman is being “heavily lobbied” to run. Under state law, members do not have to live in the district in order to run.
Other Republicans mentioned as possible candidates include Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, and state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.
The Republican nominee, however, won’t be chosen by voters but instead by a majority vote of the GOP county chairs from the district. Candidates wishing to be considered must file a nomination certificate within 10 days of the governor’s proclamation of a special election.
And while the seat does lean toward Republicans, there has been speculation that the district could become more Democratic or even be eliminated all together in redistricting, especially with the Empire State losing a congressional seat. In 2008, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won the district with 52 percent of the vote, but President Obama got 46 percent.
“This is a Republican-leaning [district] so the burden is on them to see if they can hold onto it or, if they make yet another mistake and put the seat in play,” said one senior Democratic strategist.