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A married New York congressman accused of sending a shirtless photo of himself to a woman abruptly resigned his seat Wednesday, saying he was quitting because he regretted actions that had hurt his family and others.
The gossip website Gawker reported Wednesday that Rep. Christopher Lee, a two-term Republican, had e-mailed the photo to a woman he met on the Craigslist classified-ads website.
Lee said in an e-mailed statement that his resignation was effective immediately. The statement offered no confirmation or details of a Craigslist posting.
“I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents,” Lee said in a statement posted on his congressional website. “I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.”
Lee said the challenges faced in western New York, where he serves the 26th Congressional District, and across the country are “too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately.”
Lee’s resignation comes almost a year after Democrat Eric Massa resigned his seat in western New York’s 29th Congressional District amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers. Massa gave contradictory explanations for his behavior, acknowledging he groped and tickled a staffer in a nonsexual way and wrestled with others at his 50th birthday party but then denying any groping occurred.
In Lee’s case, a woman described as a 34-year-old Maryland resident and government employee provided Gawker with e-mails she said were an exchange between her and Lee in response to an ad she placed in the “Women Seeking Men” section of Craigslist.
Gawker reported that Lee identified himself as a divorced lobbyist and sent a photo of himself posing shirtless in front of a mirror. It said the woman eventually broke off the contact with Lee after becoming suspicious that he had misrepresented himself.
Lee served on the House Ways and Means Committee and was active on economic revitalization issues. He has a business background stemming from his family’s manufacturing enterprises.
Lee had been very involved with pushing flight safety since a plane crashed into a house in Clarence, part of his Buffalo-area district, on Feb. 12, 2009, killing 49 people aboard the plane and the home’s owner.
Scott Maurer, whose daughter was one of those who died in the crash, was at a news conference on flight safety with Lee in Washington on Tuesday. He said Lee was “a hard worker and a good guy” who “loved and cared for” his community.
“He was 100 percent professional with us, 100 percent supportive and seriously was considerate and concerned with aviation safety, so to hear that he’s resigned is a huge loss of support for our efforts,” Maurer said Wednesday night.
A state official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the issue said the congressman hadn’t submitted his resignation to the New York secretary of state Wednesday evening. After he does, Gov. Andrew Cuomo could schedule a special election.
Cuomo, a Democrat, had no comment Wednesday night.
Andrew Miga in Washington, D.C., and Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press