Christine Beatty tries to move on from a real-life scandal

October 17, 2013

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in a scene from “Scandal.” (AP Photo/ABC, Richard Cartwright)

Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope, a glamorous, crisis management consultant in the TV drama ” Scandal,” who is compromised by her adulterous affair with the President of the United States. Christine Beatty is the woman at the center of the real-life scandal that engulfed former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

In the latest issue of Essence magazine, Beatty writes movingly about the wages of adultery and being labeled, in her words, “home wrecker, opportunist, mistress, whore.” Her article, “How Sexting Ended My Marriage,” also taps into society’s tendency to “forgive” philandering men but “punish” adulterous women.

Beatty’s is a cautionary tale of a woman struggling to move on after a highly publicized scandal.

Unlike, TV’s Olivia Pope, Beatty, a mother of two, was married when she began her affair with Kilpatrick. The son of then-congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, he was warmly received as one of the great hopes for a new generation of black politicians.

Beatty, the mayor’s chief-of-staff, had a bright political future as well. But on Dec. 1, 2008 she pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice for lying under oath about the affair. The Detroit Free Press published dozens of the sexually explicit texts Beatty and Kilpatrick exchanged on their city-supplied pagers.

Kilpatrick served 99 days for lying under oath about the affair. He walked out of jail and into a six-figure job. When Beatty, by then divorced, completed a little more than half of her 120-day sentence, there were no job offers. Her calls went unreturned or were greeted with, “I’ll get back to you.”

The affair began, Beatty wrote, when her own marriage was falling apart. Emotionally, she was running on empty and craving the affection she was no longer getting at home. “I was one of the most powerful women in the city, handling labor negotiations, working on bridge funding agreements to save one of our major hospitals and overseeing 11 city departments, and I couldn’t even pick out my clothes without considering if Kwame would like how I looked.”

Beatty knew the affair was reckless and wrong, but she didn’t shut it down.  The collateral damage would include her children and, Beatty believes, Kilpatrick’s mother, a once popular politician, who lost her reelection bid in 2010. The old adage, “What’s done in the dark comes into the light” was reaffirmed for Beatty with a vengeance. Nothing new there. From Jezebel to Cleopatra, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fictional Hester Prynne to Marilyn Monroe and Monica Lewinsky, scandalous women have worn their scarlet A’s inside and out. Legend are the sermons, songs, books, plays and movies about scandalous women supposedly driving otherwise good men to ruin with no weapon other than what a songwriter describes as “that thing.”

“That thing” is the handy excuse for female oppression, rape, domestic violence and infidelity. Men tend to get a pass because the reasoning is that they’re just weak, helpless, against “that thing.” For powerful men who cheat, introspection and humble pie seem not to be on the menu; they just keep rolling.

Take former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former New York congressman Anthony Weiner. Spitzer, a married, former prosecutor patronized high-priced prostitutes, investigators found. The heat from the scandal had barely cooled before CNN picked him to co-host a talk show. More recently, Spitzer ran for New York City comptroller. He lost, but apparently expected voters to forgive him as they’d forgiven other philandering pols. Same for Weiner. After he was forced out of Congress for sexting and lying about it, he offered himself as a New York City mayoral candidate this summer and was running ahead of the pack, until it was discovered that he had continued sexting a young woman who started out as a fan. Then there’s former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He cheated on his first wife with his second wife and then cheated on her with the woman he’s married to now. Yet, hardly a day passes that this serial adulterer isn’t on TV pontificating about the state of the nation. Former president Clinton lied about a sexual liaison with a White House intern and was even impeached. Yet today, he’s a revered elder statesman and philanthropist.

We can only speculate what Kwame Kilpatrick would be doing had he not been sentenced to 28 years for corruption, racketeering, bribery and tax crimes.

As for Christine Beatty, she’s moved to a new city and is picking up the pieces of her life, apparently chastened and wiser. She says “redemption is a process,” and she’s finding her way back “to a place where I can again recognize myself.”

I wish her well.

Betty Winston Bayé is a journalist who lives in Louisville, Ky.

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