Wife of S.C. Governor Praised for Her Tough Stance Against His Infidelity

Jenny Sanford was a chief strategist during South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's ascendancy, but she now says, "His career is not a concern of mine."
Jenny Sanford was a chief strategist during South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's ascendancy, but she now says, "His career is not a concern of mine." (By Mary Ann Chastain -- Associated Press)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 29, 2009

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND, S.C., June 28 -- This is the place where the betrayed wife took her stand.

As her husband's affair with an Argentine woman exploded onto the global stage and publicly humiliated her family, Jenny Sanford, 46, and their four sons sought refuge here at their large beachfront cottage on this lush island enclave outside Charleston.

In marked contrast to elsewhere across the state, where residents remain riveted by the scandal of Gov. Mark Sanford's disappearing act and affair, Sullivan's Island is the cocoon protecting Jenny and the boys as they strive for normalcy.

But it has also been the first lady's war room, where she has given her wayward husband a public thrashing. In the process, she seems to have drawn a new path for the aggrieved spouse of a philandering politician, an episode that has become something of a ritual in American politics.

Outside the Sanford home, on Atlantic Avenue near the towering lighthouse, the cameras had disappeared this weekend. Kids splashed in a pool next door and their parents laid under the hot Carolina sun, while other residents biked and jogged along narrow streets lined with palm trees.

The entrance to the Sanford family's driveway was blocked by a security agent in a black sedan with tinted windows, but the Sanford boys could be seen riding their bicycles underneath a basketball hoop. Inside, Jenny Sanford packed to take them on a vacation and visitors streamed through. Her sister stopped by with her new baby, as did the family lawyer, in shorts and sandals and carrying a canvas beach bag.

It was just as Jenny Sanford would have it, her friends here said. She is not a victim, they said, but a survivor.

"Jenny is the hero in this story," said Cyndi Mosteller, a longtime friend and a prominent Republican operative here. "She's the hero to her children, and I think she's the hero to this state. In the midst of this tragedy, she is standing strong to who she is and what she believes in. . . . I think Jenny has not had these types of ambitions, but I think every woman in South Carolina would vote for Jenny Sanford for governor right now."

For Mark Sanford to move South Carolina past a sex scandal that gripped the nation and embarrassed his state last week, family friends here said, he may need help from his wife, who has long been his chief political strategist.

When her husband first ran for Congress in 1994, Jenny Sanford had a 15-month-old and a newborn to care for. She ran the campaign from the basement of the cottage, a role she continued to play in other campaigns.

"He would have never won either of his governor's races without her -- no way," said Will Folks, Sanford's spokesman from 2001 to 2005. "She ran the show. He pointed the direction he wanted to go, and she was the bulldozer that cleared the path and got him there."

But that was all before her husband disappeared for days without letting anyone know where he was, then confessed that he had been in Argentina with his mistress. Maria Belen Chapur acknowledged Sunday in Buenos Aires that she had a relationship with the governor but said she otherwise would not talk about her private life.

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