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Legislator Who Had Affair Gets Backing

Allies stand with Anaheim Democrat Tom Umberg after he and his wife act preemptively to disclose the relationship.

June 24, 2005|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Tom Umberg's political allies pledged their continued support Thursday after the Anaheim Democrat, who is seeking a state Senate seat, disclosed his four-year extramarital affair.

Colleagues in Orange County and Sacramento, along with some political consultants, said the revelation probably wasn't enough to derail his candidacy next year.

State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) issued a statement Thursday standing behind Umberg, saying the private matter between him and his wife and children wouldn't impair Umberg's effectiveness in Sacramento. Umberg, being term-limited, will run for Dunn's seat.

"Having known the Umbergs for many years, I know they stand committed to each other in these troubled times," Dunn said. "I continue to enthusiastically support Tom as a dedicated public servant committed to his constituents."

Umberg and his wife, Robin, revealed the affair Wednesday because they said the woman had threatened to make it public.

The assemblyman would not name her for privacy reasons, but The Times has independently learned her name, and for a second day she didn't return calls seeking comment.

Umberg said he believed the woman had shown the Orange County Register e-mails they exchanged, and he believed the newspaper was preparing a story with her account of the affair.

Umberg said the relationship began in 2000 and continued on and off until he ended it in November. He was sworn into the Assembly in December, having previously represented the area from 1990 to 1994.

Umberg's office received several calls reacting to the revelation Thursday, with most urging the couple to "hang in there," said his chief of staff, George Urch.

"I figured we'd have some Republicans calling up, laughing in the phone, but we haven't had that," Urch said.

One GOP consultant said the issue may be cited in next year's Senate campaign but that doing so could backfire in Umberg's favor. An affair alone wouldn't be enough for most people to balk at a candidate, Republican strategist Adam Probolsky said.

"It used to be that things like this would have killed a candidate's chances for reelection or higher office, but we're such a forgiving electorate, it doesn't have impact anymore," Probolsky said. "It's sad for him and his wife and family, but he still has the same record and beliefs and background. There are a whole host of reasons that a Republican will have a chance at taking him on, but this won't be a big factor."

The Orange County Democratic Party will stand behind the Umbergs, Chairman Frank Barbaro said. He often joined Robin Umberg in campaigning for her husband last year after he was called to active duty in the Army Reserve as a terrorism prosecutor. Umberg said he worked in Washington, D.C.; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and undisclosed locations from August to December.

"Those of us who are close to Tom and Robin know they have a strong relationship, and we think they'll remain together and continue to do positive things," said Barbaro, a Santa Ana attorney. "I wonder how many people will be throwing stones because so many people have their own glass houses."

One activist in Orange County Democratic politics said he was disappointed and angry at news of the affair. Mitch Goldstone said he was upset that Umberg would dishonor his marriage, especially after abstaining on a vote in the Assembly that would have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

"I'm stunned at the hypocrisy of this," Goldstone said. "We all thought Tom was a pillar of integrity."

Lou Correa, who held an Orange County Assembly seat before being elected to the county's Board of Supervisors last year, said: "I know Robin and Tom and only want the best for them. I hope he and his family work this out."

Umberg was back in Sacramento on Thursday because the Assembly remains in session.

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