This is one of those bombshell stories with multiple facets that branch off into all manner of areas: gay rights, immigration & border control, potential abuse of power, sexual assault by a priest, and a mediagenic sheriff about to run for Congress.
Late last week, Phoenix New Times broke a major story saying that Pinal County AZ Sheriff Paul Babeu had a gay sex affair with a Mexican (known only as Jose, for privacy). They broke up, and Jose now claims that Babeu threatened him with deportation. Babeu quickly held a press conference strongly denying the allegations but also said “I am gay.”
Students of crisis management and damage control take note. Babeu did this part right. Regardless of how the serious charges of abuse of power turn out, Babeu did not dodge, evade, or obfuscate about his sexuality. By stating pointblank he is gay, he saved himself weeks of pointless denials and defused at least that part of the crisis. For a public figure to do that is commendable. For a sharply conservative, immigration border hawk sheriff in Arizona to do so is rather extraordinary.
It should be noted that Babeu is not a hypocrite when it comes to his sexuality as he appears to have never made any anti-gay statements publicly. Babeu and his boyfriend met in 2006 on gay.com, a dating website. Jose says Babeu claimed he loved him and wasn’t seeing anyone else, but Jose soon suspected him of cheating. So he set up an account on another gay dating website under the assumed name of Matt and contacted Babeu, who was also on the site. He showed Phoenix New Times photos Babeu sent to him as Matt, some of which showed Babeu naked from the waist down.
Jose also has texts from Babeu to him as Matt where Babeu identifies himself as a sheriff who had appeared in a TV ad about border security with John McCain. Let that sink in. Babeu told an anonymous man on a gay sex site precisely who he was. Look, I like adrenaline rushes too, But Babeu’s behavior was so risky that it borders on irrational. Then again, perhaps Babeu suffers from the delusion that Rep. Anthony Weiner apparently had too, that what you do on the Internet and with texting is somehow private. It’s not. A better idea is to act as if anything you do on the Net and text could be public. Did you know that President George W. Bush never used email because he didn’t want anything that could be subpoenaed?
Whether Babeu or his personal lawyer threatened Jose or hinted he would be deported if he didn’t stay quiet about their relationship will no doubt be the subject of multiple investigations. While there may be more texts, the perhaps most damning one mentioned in the New Times article was from Babeu to Jose in September. It said, “You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process . . . including yourself & your family.”
Babeu is running for Congress in a highly conservative Arizona district. He began politics in North Adams, Massachusetts. It’s a rust-belt mill town. Babeu controlled the city council for a bit against an entrenched boss then lost the race for mayor in a “bare-knuckle” race. It was during this period that Babeu said he had been molested as a youth by a local priest, something which along with his deeply conservative views, turned most people off to him. He then left for Arizona in 2002 and was sheriff of Pinal County 7 years later.
Clearly, he has serious political skills. But in the wake of the revelations, long-time ally Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County is distancing himself from Babeu. The next few weeks will probably show whether Babeu can remain as sheriff or has a chance of being elected to Congress.