From John Tory to Trump, Clinton and the “Profumo Affair,” a Brief History of Notable Political Sex Scandals
Toronto Mayor John Tory speaks during a press conference at City Hall, during which he announced his intent to step down following revelations of an extra-marital affair with a former staffer, on Feb. 10, 2023. Photo: Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press
“I heard it through the grapevine / Not much longer would you be mine / Oh I heard it through the grapevine… ”
The classic song, first performed by Gladys Knight & the Pips, almost sums up what Toronto Mayor John Tory went through this past Friday, when he announced his impending resignation. Except in this case, the grapevine was the Toronto Star, which broke the story of the married 68-year-old’s affair with a 31-year-old former staffer.
Still, while it’s never fun to see details of your personal life splayed across the front page of one of the country’s most prominent newspapers, and the pain, embarrassment and anger Tory caused his wife and family is immeasurable, on a professional level — and as political sex scandals go — the mayor is getting off pretty easy.
Following the news breaking, Tory actually received a flood of support, including from one of the Toronto Star’s own columnists, who felt that he shouldn’t have to resign over a consensual affair with a staffer over whom he technically held a position of power.
And, in fact, Tory will stay on for the city’s upcoming budget meetings while some question whether he will resign at all amidst the show of support from constituents and fellow politicos — including Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Toronto police union, according to CityNews. There are, however, those politicians, like City Councillor Gord Perks, who believe that Tory should honour his promise to Torontonians to step down.
“Being the mayor of Toronto is not a part time job,” Perks told reporters, adding that it would be an “outrage” if Tory used his veto powers on any budgetary amendments given the situation. “You can’t say I am going to do it on Tuesday and not on Wednesday. We need clarity and cohesion as a council so we can govern this city. The mayor has said he is resigning. The sooner that happens the sooner we can get on with the business of making this city a great place to live.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, whose riding is in Toronto, agreed that Tory should resign. “Mayor Tory admitted to making a serious mistake and to a serious error in judgment. He took responsibility for that mistake. He apologized for that mistake, and he took responsibility by resigning. That was the right thing to do, and that was the necessary thing to do,” she said.
Of course, some of the leniency from citizens and colleagues in the Tory situation may also be attributable to the fact that his scandal seems so quaint compared to his predecessor, Mayor Rob Ford, whose farcical mayoralty included video of him smoking crack cocaine, public drunkenness, reading while driving on the Gardiner Expressway and making crude comments about oral sex in a media scrum. And that’s just the start of it.
As well, Canadians aren’t exactly known for our political sex scandals. I mean, our politicians may smoke crack and read while driving, but extramarital hanky panky isn’t common.
Sure, it’s happened before — most recently, and memorably, to Maxime Bernier. Before founding the far-right People’s Party of Canada and railing on Twitter against everything from diversity to climate change and Greta Thunberg, Bernier was a prominent Conservative Party Foreign Affairs Minister who got into some hot water over what he did at his ex-girlfriend’s home. No, he wasn’t cheating on a spouse, but he did leave classified government documents at her place — as one does in the heat of passion — and, in fact, it was she who returned them to the Foreign Affairs office. Bernier stepped down as Minister of Foreign Affairs as a result.
Still, no one quite does political sex scandals like our American friends.
Former president Bill Clinton’s legacy will forever be tied to his affair with then-intern Monica Lewinsky — a gigantic political and media saga that brought conversations about stained dresses, cigars and his now infamous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” lie to the fore.
And then there’s another former president — Donald Trump — whose laundry list of sexual misconduct allegations warrants its own Wikipedia page. From admitting on a hot mic to grabbing women by their genitals to accusations of entering the dressing rooms of beauty pageant contestants to partying with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Trump is a sex scandal cornucopia.
It’s worth noting that, unlike with Tory (so far), sex scandals did not end or prevent Clinton or Trump’s time in office. Though Trump is now possibly facing two high-profile trials — one in the alleged rape of E. Jean Carroll and the other connected to hush money payments to cover up an alleged affair with former adult film star Stormy Daniels.
A third former president — John F. Kennedy — is also notorious for his alleged philandering with everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Judith Exner. The latter not only claimed to have an affair with JFK, but also said she hooked up with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana and helped the president and the mobster exchange communications regarding the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Kennedy, of course, never suffered politically for his alleged dalliances either. Though the same can’t be said for Anthony Weiner, a former congressman from New York who, in 2011, accidentally tweeted a photo of his penis to a woman in what was meant to be a private message.
The ensuing investigation led to the revelation of multiple online affairs and, eventually, Weiner’s resignation.
And staying in New York, just three years prior, then-governor Eliot Spitzer was discovered to be hiring prostitutes from an escort service — a reported US$80,000 mistake that also cost Spitzer his political career.
Perhaps one of the most brazen affairs, however, came courtesy of former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who forged toward a 1988 presidential run armed not only with a denial of reported cheating, but also a challenge to the press: “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.”
Unfortunately for Hart, as CBS News notes, the press took him up on the offer and not only found that the married senator got up to some monkey business with model Donna Rice, but they also actually did so aboard a yacht literally called “Monkey Business.” Needless to say, Hart abandoned his run for president.
Politicians act poorly across the pond too, including the infamous “Profumo Affair” — the 1961 relationship between 46-year-old Conservative Party Secretary of State for War John Profumo and 19-year-old model Christine Keeler.
It all sounds like standard fair until you recall that Keeler was also supposedly canoodling with a Soviet naval attaché — not a good national security look during the heightened tensions of the ongoing Cold War.
Profumo originally denied the affair but later admitted to lying about it, resigning from his post in 1963. But he wasn’t the only casualty.
The scandal proved a smear on then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s entire Conservative government, not to mention his personal popularity. Macmillan also resigned in 1963 — though he cited health issues rather than severely declining popularity — and the ruling Conservative Party lost power in the 1964 election.
So as embarrassing as this whole situation might be for John Tory, at least his affair didn’t topple an entire government.
And perhaps, given the question of whether he’ll actually end up stepping down, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” isn’t the appropriate soundtrack for this political sex scandal.
When it comes to the attitudes of many Torontonians, Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” may prove a more apt tune.