WASHINGTON – Despite years of work on agriculture and intelligence issues, Rep. Gary Condit is destined to be remembered for his relationship with a young woman who was killed in a park.
Chandra Levy's May 2001 disappearance in Washington derailed Condit's political career. The 13-year congressman, whose district in California's Central Valley had been known as "Condit Country,'' lost the Democratic primary in March to Dennis Cardoza, Condit's one-time political protege. Cardoza went on to win the seat on Nov. 5.
Condit, 54, has said and done little publicly since the primary. He draws his congressional salary until January, but he was absent when lawmakers returned last week for a two lame-duck days of votes in the House.
As a member of the House intelligence committee, Condit sat through a daylong hearing in October on intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks. While many other lawmakers grilled the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency directors, Condit asked no questions.
A senior member of the House Agriculture Committee, he hasn't spoken on the floor of the House or even inserted a statement in the Congressional Record since February, when he noted the 100th birthday of Carlos Badger of Stanislaus County, Calif.
Repeated calls to his home in Ceres, Calif., have gone unanswered. His aides said they don't know what he will do when he leaves Congress.
His very name has become a conversation stopper in the Capitol. When The Associated Press asked a dozen colleagues about Condit, they had little to say about him. "Can we talk off the record?'' a Republican lawmaker said. "I have no idea what's become of him.''
Rep. Cal Dooley, D-Calif., represents a neighboring district and shares Condit's moderate political outlook. But when asked if he knew Condit's plans, Dooley said, "Gary and I were never close.''
Dooley was among the first lawmakers to criticize Condit for his public silence in the weeks after Levy, a 24-year-old from Modesto, Calif., vanished. Condit issued a statement establishing a $25,000 reward fund and calling Levy "a great person and a good friend.''
Police interviewed him four times but said repeatedly he was not a suspect in her disappearance. In the third interview, Condit reportedly told investigators he was having an affair with Levy, a former intern at the Bureau of Prisons.
When Condit finally spoke out publicly in a nationally televised interview on ABC, even longtime political allies called him evasive and said he did nothing to boost his flagging popularity.
Three weeks later, Sept. 11 largely ended the constant media scrutiny, but the damage to Condit's reputation had been done.
Levy's remains were found May 22, more than a year after she disappeared, in Rock Creek Park, a sprawling national park in the nation's capital. Police have yet to find her killer.
"It's still an active investigation,'' said Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, which also is working the case.
This Congress was to have been Condit's time to shine as a conservative Democrat whose vote would be important to Republican President Bush in a closely divided House.
Instead, his congressional aides are packing boxes, filling dustbins and, in some cases, hoping to join the staff of another lawmaker.