John Sweeney: Is the Party Finally Over?


God, I’d almost forgotten we don’t have former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) to kick around any more. But I’m willing to make an exception. Sweeney was an Abramoff crony and the ringleader of the GOP “Brooks Brothers Riot” that helped shutdown the recount down in Florida in November 2000.

Sweeney, you’ll remember, was defeated last year in a very close and hard-fought race against Kirsten Gillibrand. Just before the election a police report surfaced describing a 911 call Sweeney’s wife had placed to police in the district after the congressman had apparently manhandled her during a domestic blow-up in their home. Sweeney rather unconvincingly challenged the authenticity of the report, calling it “fabricated” and “concocted” by the Gillibrand campaign. He later admitted something had happened. But he and his wife both refused to discuss details. Then they said they would authorize the police to release the report and then failed to do so.

The other big Sweeney story last year of course was that crazy night in April when a visibly drunk Sweeney stumbled out of a bar near a Union College frat house and joined throngs of youthful constituents for some extremely inebriated merriment.

In any case, Sweeney’s career swirled down the tubes on election day. And that was pretty much the last we’d heard.

Until just this last week.

Even though Sweeney gave his wife an illegal 10% cut of his fundraising take, the bloom is now officially off the Sweeney marriage. On Sunday, Gayle Sweeney, John’s now estranged wife told the Albany Times-Union that he frequently verbally abused her, sometimes physically abused her and “coerced” her into issueing the denial she made with him just befor election day. In fact, if the phyiscal abuse was only occasional it was apparently pretty extreme because Gayle Sweeney says she is now in hiding, staying in undisclosed locations, because she fears for her life.

But Sweeney himself is at least figuratively fighting back. According to a follow-up story that ran in the Times-Union yesterday, Sweeney claims that it was actually Gayle Sweeney who physically abused him. Her abuse was “pretty extreme,” said Sweeney. And he is afraid of her.

Indeed, in the original 911 incident in which Gayle Sweeney called 911 and told police her husband was “knocking her around” and asked for help, it turns out it was actually Gayle beating up John. Not the other way around. At least that’s now his story.

Sweeney also now concedes that he lied in his pre-election press conference but that he did it to protect his wife. “I had to make a choice about whether my marriage was going to survive or I was staying in Congress. If I stood up and told exactly what happened, I would have lost my marriage.” I’m a little unclear on this point. Sounds like he decided to keep the marriage and the congressional seat. But upstate New York is a different place. So I won’t pass judgment.

For the moment, aside from denying his wife’s claims of abuse, Sweeney is staying quiet on the advice of counsel. He says he still hasn’t decided whether he’ll run for elective office again.