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No apologies for Condit are due
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A caller to our "Sound Off!" line this week admonishes the community of Ceres to apologize to Gary Condit, the former congressman, now that police have identified the murderer of Chandra Ann Levy.

Really, apologize? For what? Condit deserves nothing of the sort.

First some review.

Levy was, of course, the Modesto intern who had a dalliance with then Rep. Condit, a Ceres Democrat. She turned up missing on May 1, 2001 in Washington, D.C. and intense national media focus centered on Condit's relationship with Levy. The scandal and media circus became fodder for tabloids like the National Enquirer.

I first met Condit in the 1980s when he was a county supervisor. He was a likable and folksy politician who seemed "at home" pouring coffee at a Grange Hall basement during a fundraiser at a time when he was running for state Assembly. Condit seemed like a principled man to be in office. The ladies certainly liked him for his boyish good looks.

I never really believed that Condit had anything to do with Levy's disappearance though there were strange conspiracy theories that were cast onto the sea of public thought. Condit chief of staff, Mike Lynch, once told me that D.C. was a place where hundreds of people have disappeared over the years, wondering why that wasn't worthy of media attention.

What few people dispute, however, is the notion that Condit had an affair with Levy. Levy herself told friends that she had a new boyfriend, hinting that he was an influential man in Congress.

D.C. Metro Police scoured nearby Rock Creek Park a number of times with canines and failed to discover a rack of bones belonging to Levy. Her bones were found in May 2002. Now based on jailhouse confession, it appears that apparently she was attacked by El Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar A. Guandique. He choked her to death when she struggled. Guandique is already in prison for attacking other women.

Like millions of others, I found it totally plausible that Condit had been messing around with a woman half his age. Equally plausible that the woman he chose to have an affair with happened to be the victim of a random crime, setting Condit up as a suspicious character. A true case of dumb luck for Condit. Now that it seems certain that Condit had nothing to do with the murder, we still are left to reconcile how a skilled politician like Condit let his personal failings take him down.

When the scandal hit, Condit did a good imitation of a turtle: He pulled in and hid. He dodged the questions and TV cameras. He then pulled the biggest political blunder of all time: On Aug. 23, he agreed to go on national TV with Connie Chung where he seemed sneaky, arrogant and evasive. Public opinion of Condit tanked after the interview. A letter we received after the interview from a Ceres citizen said: "Connie Chung interviewed a cold dead fish on Prime Time." Condit's armor had been chinked and that opened him up for a political challenge by protégé Dennis Cardoza for which Condit's political domain would fold like a house of cards.

Condit's arrogance was couched in his confidence that his popularity was so high in his district that he could ride the storm even while clamming up. Problem is when you clam up, it looks like you've got something to hide.

After the Levy scandal broke, other women came out of the woodworks that re-enforced the notion that Condit was indeed a full-scale playboy. They included United Airlines flight attendant Anne Smith and also Susan Borges Rossi, who detailed how she was to dispose of Condit's body if he were to ever die during a sexual encounter. Both detailed how Condit engaged in sneaky practices and clothing to connect with women. There was another woman, former Oakdale beauty queen who came forth. It didn't help that Vince Flammini, his former driver, shared photos of Condit milling around in a sea of bikini clad and/or bottomless babes at a motorcycle event.

Condit never came out and publicly confessed his extracurricular activities. Many people have come up to me in the last eight years and arrived at the same conclusion: Had Condit openly admitted that he had a relationship with Levy and apologized for it and showed some compassion for the Levys and asked his constituents to forgive him, they would have. He would have survived. But he didn't and he paid dearly.

Since his days of running for Ceres City Council through his rise to the state Assembly and U.S. Congress, Condit learned adeptly how to be a good politician. He was shrewd to be sure. I'd go to events where he was slapping backs and kissing ladies and babies and he had a radar that told him when the press camera was being raised and he would position himself for an instantaneous pose. With his good looks and folksy charm, people held in high esteem.

Certainly Condit was savvy enough to know that if a politician keeps messing around, sooner or later it's going to be made public. But pride often comes before the fall. It was a gamble he was willing to take and for that there is nobody else to blame but Gary Condit.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at