Behind the Smile: From Preacher's Kid to Pol with a Taste for Motorcycles and Mosh Pits, the Odyssey of Gary Condit
Gary Condit learned how to project an image of purity and innocence at a very young age. As a little boy he would stand atop a tree stump at his father's tent revival meetings and sing, in a clear, sweet voice, "Amazing Grace." Then his father, Adrian, a Baptist minister, would step up and deliver a fire-and-brimstone sermon about hell and damnation. In a conversation with a NEWSWEEK reporter, the Rev. Frank (Chinker) Leach, 66, the preacher at the Free Full Gospel Church of Salina, Okla., recalled seeing the father and son perform the ancient drama of sin and redemption. The Reverend Leach reflected a moment on Gary Condit's current predicament and added, "Beware, your sins will find you out."
Condit is hardly the first preacher's son to fall from grace, and his sins may not go beyond the commonplace ones of bearing false witness and adultery. Like most of the people who have known Condit, the Reverend Leach refuses to believe that the congressman had anything to do with Chandra Levy's disappearance. Yet there is little doubt that the congressman has led an elaborate double life over the years, playing the role of dutiful family man while leading a racier existence away from home. As a politician, "Condit's friendliness and apparent lack of guile has enabled him to make friends across all lines," states Michael Barone's usually authoritative Almanac of American Politics. On closer inspection, however, Condit appears to have been a maverick with a manipulative streak--which he used on other lawmakers and his romantic interests alike. The congressman has been widely criticized for not being forthcoming about the true nature of his relationship with the 24-year-old intern. The implication, at least in the media circus, has been that he is covering up darker crimes, but he may well just have been acting furtively out of deeply ingrained habit.
Condit men have been battling the Devil for generations. The congressman is the son, grandson and nephew of evangelical preachers. Their fundamentalist religion banned drinking alcohol and dancing, and the Condits went to church four times a week. With mixed results: one of Condit's brothers is a policeman, while the other has been in and out of jail and legal trouble for at least 18 years, on charges ranging from burglary in 1983 to use of methamphetamine and a hypodermic needle in 1999. Gary Condit was a "good boy" with a winning smile. He was married while he was still a teenager. In Oklahoma a male had to be 21 to get married without the consent of his parents. It's not clear whether Condit had his parents' permission, but he used a driver's license that gave his age as 25, though he was only 19 at the time.
Condit likes to remind voters of his blue-collar roots as a roustabout in the oilfields of Oklahoma, but he rarely mentions the decade he spent in public relations for a health-care company in California, where he moved shortly after he got married. As a candidate for the state legislature in 1982, he ran as a pious, modest young father who preached family values. His motto was "A Good Example." Once in the state capital, however, he does not seem to have exactly practiced what he preached.
Sacramento was a gamey, randy town in the mid-'80s, run by lobbyists and the fun-loving self-proclaimed "Ayatollah" of the state assembly, Speaker Willie Brown. The FBI was ploddingly trying to nail Brown (who is now mayor of San Francisco) on bribery charges, but the high-living and nimble Brown shrugged off the G-men. The common social code for lawmakers at the time was "married on weekends." It was not unusual for legislators to have a Sacramento "wife" as well as a real one at home, to appear in campaign posters with the kids. Condit, say those who knew him at the time, stood out only in terms of the number of women and level of hypocrisy. "This guy would position himself as Mr. Bible," says a former Democratic staffer. "We would watch and say, 'How does he get away with it? …