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Tuesday, June 28, 2005 | “Sadly, (Congressman Randy “Duke”) Cunningham’s actions coarsen the public debate at a time when our civic culture is badly in need of uplifting. It’s long past time for the congressman to take seriously his responsibility to conduct himself in a manner befitting of the high office that the San Diego voters have entrusted to him.”
Ironically, this quote, from an editorial published in The San Diego Union-Tribune titled “Some Indisputably Low Conduct in Office,” was published long before Rep. Cunningham (R-Escondido) sold his Del Mar Heights home under questionable circumstances to Mitchell Wade, a friendly government contractor.
Congressman Cunningham has often been an embarrassment to his North County district. This editorial was published on Sept. 10, 1998, in response to a rash of despicable incidents highlighting the congressman’s poor behavior (see number four below).
Here is a sampling of Cunningham’s exploits:
1. In 1992, Cunningham told the Washington Post that the “liberal” Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives “ought to be lined up and shot.”
2. In May 1994, during a debate on a gun control bill on the floor of the House, Cunningham said, “I have flown an F-14 over this Capitol with a 20-millimeter gun that could shoot 6,000 rounds a minute. I could disintegrate this hall in a half-a-second burst.” The point of this rant, apparently, was to tell then-Congressman Charles Schumer not to tell Cunningham he “can’t carry a ten-shot .22.”
3. In June 1994, after Wisconsin Democratic Congressman David Obey complained of Republicans objecting to projects in Democratic congressional districts, Cunningham challenged Obey to a fight on the floor of the House, saying “I do not like to be threatened, and if the individual wants to threaten, we can handle that real good. … If the gentleman wants to do something, he can just come right over here.”
4. In September 1998, Cunningham flipped his middle finger and said “(expletive) you” to a World War II veteran with cancer at a gathering of prostate cancer patients. During the same event, Cunningham, a prostate cancer survivor himself, described his rectal treatment for the illness as “just not natural, unless maybe you’re Barney Frank,” in reference to gay Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank.
5. In November 1998, Cunningham, then a member of the House subcommittee responsible for overseeing appropriations for the city of Washington D.C., secured $3 million of federal money to refurbish a marina and fish market located along the section of the Potomac River where his personal yacht was docked.
While these examples indicate a pattern of irresponsible behavior by a man whose job requirements are outlined in the U.S. Constitution, the latest revelations of Congressman Cunningham’s actions demonstrate particularly striking arrogance and point to a singular conclusion – Congressman Cunningham has become too comfortable in office and he doesn’t care.
Cunningham socializes and conducts improper business with a small group of friends who double as donors to his campaigns. The statement Cunningham himself released Thursday shows this line-by-line – he sold his unlisted house site unseen to a close friend and donor, whose company happens to benefit greatly from Cunningham’s votes in House committees, using a friend who is also a donor as the transaction’s agent.
Cunningham’s latest problems raise a number of questions:
1. In his statement, Cunningham says that he sold the property to Wade because the defense contractor was considering establishing a business operations center near Miramar. Cunningham doesn’t elaborate and conspicuously avoids touching on why Wade put the house up for sale immediately. Does Wade typically spend $1.7 million on a house in a particular area because his company might open an office nearby?
2. Also in his statement, Cunningham refutes allegations of staying rent-free in Wade’s Potomac yacht, saying he has spent more than $13,000 in maintenance and dock fees to live on the boat since he moved there in April 2004. This comes to a mere $930 in “rent” per month for a yacht on the Potomac in pricey Washington, D.C.
3. Why is the yacht, owned by Wade, named the “Duke-Stir” if Cunningham doesn’t own it? Is it not a bit odd for Wade to name his yacht after his tenant? Did Wade give Cunningham permission to stay on the yacht for little payment as long as the congressman voted the contractor’s way?
Congressman Cunningham served tremendously honorably as a pilot in the Vietnam War, but this honor cannot shield him from the consequences of engaging in illegal financial dealings with campaign contributors and defense contractors. Sadly, at some point Cunningham transitioned from a sometimes amusing though embarrassing sideshow to a failed leader easily tempted by the vices of power.
Ramsey Green is a native San Diegan and manages a regional energy efficiency program. He has taught high school social studies in south Louisiana, organized political campaigns and worked in politics and public policy within San Diego and New York City. Reach him at