Republican Rep. John Sweeney’s attendance at a beer-drinking, college fraternity party has drawn criticism from Democrats who accused the New York lawmaker of using poor judgment.
“What is a 50-year-old congressman doing at a frat party at 1 in the morning cavorting with students 30 years his junior? Teaching them how a bill becomes a law?” Blake Zeff, a spokesman for New York Democrats, said Friday.
Sweeney stopped by the Alpha Delta Phi party at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., late last Friday, a visit first reported by the college newspaper, the Concordiensis. The paper also printed a photo of the lawmaker posing with students. Local newspapers in the region posted similar photos online.
Sweeney told The Associated Press Friday he wasn’t drunk, and brushed off the criticism as silly.
“If I’d known going to a frat house would get me that much attention I would have done it earlier,” he joked, adding that he went to another area college Friday to accept an award.
“I was walking around a neighborhood meeting my friend’s customers. I went over and I was listening to what they had to say, shaking their hands, because that’s what I was asked to do and that was it. They seemed like nice kids, to be honest with you.”
The congressman charged the Democratic criticism is “another sign they’ve got no issues to try to talk about and they’re going to try to make something out of nothing, because sadly that’s what they’ve devolved into.”
As a rule, campus-registered fraternity parties are allowed four kegs of beer that security taps to start the event and then unplugs at 2 a.m.
John Tomlin, a sophomore who attended the party and wrote the story for the college newspaper, told The Associated Press on Friday that Sweeney “was loud, he was swearing” but he never saw the congressman consume any alcohol.
Tomlin, who said he drank before the party but not during it, said he didn’t know if any drugs were present.
In February, Sweeney was hospitalized in Albany after complaining of severe headaches. After several weeks in and out of the hospital, he was eventually diagnosed with vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels in the brain, and prescribed drugs to treat the problem.
Sweeney is married with three children.
The four-term Republican represents a district that stretches from the Albany suburbs to the North Country and includes Saratoga Springs. Union College is in a neighboring district.
Democrats have targeted Sweeney in his bid for re-election. The lawmaker won a fourth term in 2004 with nearly 66 percent of the vote in a district with a mix of union workers from the capital and Republican-leaning dairy farmers. President Bush prevailed with 53 percent of the vote in the 20th Congressional District.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said his organization would provide financial support to Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand who is trying to unseat Sweeney. She is among the first 22 Democratic candidates selected for financial help from the national party.
Zeff said he would send Sweeney a copy of the film “Old School,” in which a number of bored grown men, played by Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell, form their own fraternity.
Associated Press Writer Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Associated Press