Saturday, June 27, 2009

Governor’s Wife Is Hurt but Unbowed

Jenny Sanford, the first lady of South Carolina, at the family’s beachfront home Thursday on Sullivan’s Island, S.C.

As Jenny Sanford headed off for a boating trip, the day after her husband, Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, told the world he had been unfaithful, she met the throng of reporters waiting outside her South Carolina vacation home, all inquiring about her emotional condition.

“Am I O.K.?” Mrs. Sanford repeated, from the driver’s seat of a vehicle. “You know what? I have great faith and I have great friends and great family. We have a good Lord in this world, and I know I’m going to be fine. Not only will I survive, I’ll thrive.”

No shrinking violet, or mumbling loyal wife, she.

It was, friends and former aides say, classic Jenny Sanford — strong willed, steely, anything but a victim. Mrs. Sanford, a former New York investment banker, largely gave up her professional life and turned to helping her husband’s political career, but those who know her well say she was also never one to abandon her sense of identity, her direction, or her own opinions.

Anything but a victim; good for her. And for others.

To one reporter who wondered what might come of Mr. Sanford’s political career, Mrs. Sanford answered sharply: “His career is not a concern of mine. He’s going to have to worry about that. I’m worried about my family and the character of my children.” And with that, Mrs. Sanford, who spent much of Thursday with her husband and said she was working on her marriage, pulled away, smilingly telling the assembled cameras, “I wish we had room on the boat for you all, but we do not.”

Now, buzz off.

Jenny Sanford was described by friends as strong willed.

Even within the dimensions of her husband’s political life, Mrs. Sanford was not merely a helpmate in a traditional first lady role, but managed her husband’s political campaigns (at first, from their basement) and later acted as a sounding board on matters of policy, a fact that one former aide to Mr. Sanford said regularly irked some members of his staff. She often studied data that was sent to the governor’s office and helped develop positions, one senior legislative staff member said, describing her as “the real brains behind the operation.”

A, so he's the air-head. And a putz; to wit:

Through a spokeswoman, Mrs. Sanford declined requests to be interviewed for this article, but told The Associated Press she learned of her husband’s affair early this year when she found a letter he had written. She told him to end the relationship, but he repeatedly asked permission to visit the woman in Argentina in the months that followed.

“I said absolutely not,” Mrs. Sanford told The A.P. “It’s one thing to forgive adultery. It’s another to condone it.”

He asked his wife's permission to keep seeing his mistress, the weasel. And this jerk was supposed to be presidential timber?

“She is one of those people who is always the smartest person in the room,” said Marjory Wentworth, a friend who is also the poet laureate of South Carolina.

In 1989, the couple married, but it was not until she had her second child that politics entered their family picture. “It was quite a surprise to me,” she told The Greenville News of South Carolina. “When he told me, I was in the hospital, and we had just delivered our second son. So we had a 15-month-old and a newborn, and he says to me, ‘I’m going to run for Congress.’”

Sounds a mite selfish.

From home, Mrs. Sanford managed that first campaign in 1994, and then his run for governor.

Friends, however, credit Mrs. Sanford with the ultimate juggling act: happily serving as a first lady who would choose one of her son’s class plays over a presidential dinner anytime, but who was also perfectly comfortable discussing intricacies of the state’s finances.

“So often when a woman is business minded, they’re not good at being a cookie baking soccer mom, but that’s the thing about Jenny,” said Jennifer Pickens, a friend for over a decade. “You cannot stereotype her that way. She can be either one of those things and do it effortlessly.”

In recent weeks, and even on Wednesday, as her husband acknowledged his affair, friends said Mrs. Sanford had remained cheerful, gracious and strong. Lalla Lee Campsen, a friend of 20 years, was with Mrs. Sanford that day and described it as a time “when Jenny exuded, perhaps as never before, her great strength of character.”

Her friends praised the statement she issued that day, saying that she would press to repair her marriage and forgive but that she had also asked her husband to leave — at least for now.

“That was definitely her, all her,” Ms. Pickens reflected. “It reeks of her. She will survive this beautifully.”

Reeks? Perhaps not the best choice of words, but the sentiment is clear.

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