- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

In Washington things are not always as they appear. This has become crystal clear with the disappearance of Chandra Ann Levy and the implication that one man who befriended her, Rep. Gary Condit, now finds himself defending his marital fidelity to generations of Fourth Estaters weaned on Watergate, Marion Barry's drug bust and Bill Clinton's womanizing.

I attribute this masquerade to the fact that Washington has two distinct faces. There is the vicariate District of Columbia, a territorial wedge governed by poverty, pimps and transplanted potentates, where those of us who insist on designating this a homeland are frankly reminded by the lords and masters of the true Washington that the District (or D.C., as we affectionately call it) really and truly is no city at all. It is a figment of considerable imagination, a place where a crack-smoking, flirting mayor crashed and burned only to rise from a heap of political ashes, don two familiar masks and reclaim a new spot in D.C. history.

Then there is Washington proper, home to the republic's Hall of Political Fame (or shame, depending on your perch). This is the place where the nobles and knaves court the mightiest of the mighty and where homage is routinely paid to all things democratic and militaristic. This also is the place where the D.C. jesters appeal to political gestures on the Hill and where the Fourth Estate gives equal billing to blue dogs and yellow dogs. This is the place where, what first appeared to be a mere missing persons case, now threatens the comings and goings of Mr. Condit, a middle-aged and attractive congressman whose California constituents call him simply, "Gary," but who used to be relatively unknown.

Indeed, everything is magnified in Washington, where political husbands are often caught having not one affair but multiple lovers and where a missing persons case has turned Washington into the center of nonpolitical attraction.

The case is that of Chandra Ann Levy, a young and attractive Washington intern whose last known whereabouts are dated April 30. Mr. Condit, 53, considered Miss Levy, 24, a "great person and a good friend." He is considered easy on the eyes, a hunk, a manly man, one of two Democrats to make the 1998 congressional pinup of calendar boys. His wife, Carolyn, is a looker, too. So is Anne Marie Smith, a flight attendant who says she and Mr. Condit had a 10-month affair. Miss Smith is a gutsy and sexy red-head, Miss Levy a curly-haired brunette, and Mrs. Condit is a striking blond.

One might expect a raven-haired beauty to come media-calling any moment now, considering there is a bevy of other Condit coddlers who said they have had romantic relationships with Mr. Condit, as this newspaper reported two days ago. "We've talked to five other women other than the flight attendant," a law-enforcement source told reporters John Drake and Jim Keary. "They are all types and ages." So, while investigators know what these women look like, we don't. Not just yet, anyway.

Still, regardless of their ethnicity or the color of their locks, don't you find this all a little strange? Don't you at all find it interesting that a man who has spent the past 12 years in Washington, has been married to the same woman since they were teens, is hardly a political headliner and was reared by a Baptist preacher in the Bible belt, has drawn seven women out of the woodwork who have claimed him as a lover?

The possibility that one or all of them is a fibber, of course, is on the table. That goes for Mr. Condit, too. Funny thing, though. Investigators had tried to speak with Mrs. Condit, but they did not until yesterday. Mrs. Condit, a volunteer at a California hospital who was in Washington when Miss Levy vanished, is "critically ill" and had been "uncooperative in working out ground rules for talks," Mr. Drake and Mr. Keary reported. Wifely prerogative, perhaps.

Miss Smith, on the other hand, has been surprisingly forthcoming about her affair with Mr. Condit, a relationship, she said, he put on ice after Miss Levy disappeared. Miss Smith also has said Mr. Condit asked her to sign an affidavit that would have declared the two became "acquainted" during his travels and that there were no romantic ties, past or present, between them.

For his part, Mr. Condit continues to release written statements of denial which, for the most part, are standard fare for men of all political and marital persuasions. That is to say, they deny, deny, deny. The unusual twist is this: Mr. Condit, who traditionally spends Independence Day in high-profile celebrations in his central California district, was noticeably absent July 4. His chief of staff said "another event" forced him to withdraw but he failed to elaborate, saying only that those circumstances would present themselves in a few days.

If this were a murder mystery, we'd be all needly with suspicion right about now, and many of us are although police continue trying to convince us this is a mere missing persons case, which is indeed the official line.

To be sure, under different circumstances, it would be appropriate at this point to close by saying watch this space. However, for now, Mr. Condit appears to be the one to watch.

E-mail: dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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