I watched The Front Runner this weekend, the story about Gary Hart’s implosion of a presidential campaign in 1988. What a fascinating movie and slightly prescient of the tabloid times we live in today.

It got me wondering about other salacious — and sadly common — “missteps” politicians have made over the years here in Washington.

Congressman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas was a drunk — as I’m sure many of his contemporaries were. One fall evening in October 1974 he crossed too far over the line with his behavior and ended up in the middle of a hot mess.

To sum up the bizarre incident, the Congressman’s Lincoln was pulled over the the wee hours around 2 a.m. by the park police near the Tidal Basin. Apparently Mills’ nose was bleeding and he had scratched on his face.

There were two men and three women in the vehicle. Allegedly, the group of passengers had been returning from a late night at the Junkanoo nightclub in Dupont Circle (1629 Connecticut Ave. NW). For current residents, that’s where the Chipotle is today.

Junkanoo club at 1629 Connecticut Ave. NW

After the vehicle stopped, a female passenger threw open the door and flung herself into the Tidal Basin in an attempt to escape from the situation. It turned out to be Fanny Foxe and she didn’t get very far as she had to be rescued by the park police.

We did a little digging through The Washington Post archives to resurface some great stories that some GoDCers might actually remember. The one that stuck out early was entitled “The Incident at the Tidal Basin,” published by on October 20th, 1974. Below is an excerpt from the piece.

Rep. Wilbur Mills has now acknowledged that champagne got the best of him during a night on the town that led to the bizarre doings in and around the Tital Basin early Oct. 7. He says he is “embarrassed beyond words.” Given the attention that has been focused on this incident and its possible bearing on his hopes for re-election from the Second District of Arkansas, Mr. Mills’ apology to constituents was the least that he could say.

Well, regardless of how people may feel about the conduct of Rep. Mills, our primary concern has to do with the way in which the U.S. Park Police have treated the matter. Indeed, had there not been a WMAL reporter-photographer on the scene, there might neve even have been a “matter” at all–for the park police never have issued any citations in the case, despite th fact that officials say the congressman’s automobile was speeding with its lights off, that occupants of the car had been drinking and that the driver could not produce a driver’s license.

The article continues to lambaste the Park Police for their handling or “almost non-handling” of the incident. What’s fascinating is how frank the piece is about the lack of enforcement when a congressman is involved in an drunk driving incident. If you remember reading our post on Speaker of the House Carl Albert in Cleveland Park, you’ll agree that the long arm of the law was quite lax when it came to legislators.

The most interesting and telling quote from The Washington Post article was from Assistant Park Police Chief Franklin D. Arthur when he said:

the park police do give special consideration to judges, reporters, congressmen and administrators in the executive branch–though he noted that he had no knowledge of any special treatment in the Tidal Basin incident.

A little more digging by reporters and they came across the alleged driver of the vehicle. Allegedly, it was Albert Gapaldi, resident of Crystal Towers 1600, S. Eads St. in Arlington, and a former assistant to Carl McMurray, the special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel during the Nixon Administration.

The stories in subsequent editions of the papers are comical with the claims made by witnesses. In the October 16th edition, the Post published an article where Fanny Foxe claimed that she fall into the water because she “got hysterical [and] the officer was drowning [her]. [She] didn’t need his help because [she] was an expert swimmer.”

Um, what?

She claimed the media were trying to “destroy a great man” by covering this incident. Not only that, but the Argentine stripper enlisted her husband as a character witness. He said that his wife and Mills were “close friends” beginning with their friendship as neighbors in Crystal Towers at 1600 S. Eads St.

Arkansas Rep. Wilbur D. Mills is photographed with Fanne Foxe, an infamous exotic dancer, who became known as "The Washington Tidal Basin Bombshell," after she jumped into the tidal basin to escape police who had pulled over the intoxicated Mills and found Foxe in the car on Oct. 7, 1974. Despite the scandal, Mills was re-elected just a month later in November 1974.
Arkansas Rep. Wilbur D. Mills is photographed with Fanne Foxe, an infamous exotic dancer, who became known as “The Washington Tidal Basin Bombshell,” after she jumped into the tidal basin to escape police who had pulled over the intoxicated Mills and found Foxe in the car on Oct. 7, 1974. Despite the scandal, Mills was re-elected just a month later in November 1974.

In subsequent reports, The Washington Post wrote that Fanny’s daughters had overheard Congressman Mills introduce their mother as his secretary while having dinner at Sans Souci restaurant.

Mills was up for re-election in 1974 about a month after the incident. Shockingly (or maybe not?) he won that year, but instead of pushing for another term in 1976, he bowed out and chose retirement.

You should read up on his buddy Speaker Carl Albert and his drunken missteps as well.

Congressman Wilbur Mills and exotic dancer Fanne Foxe speak with reporters outside Foxe’s dressing room in 1974. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)
Congressman Wilbur Mills and exotic dancer Fanne Foxe speak with reporters outside Foxe’s dressing room in 1974. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)