Stripper and congressman-inside story

Stripper and congressman-inside story

July 3rd, 2011 By Richard Lawson in News

When Ginger Lee, a Nashville stripper whose real name is Candice Raines, became a fan of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, she thought she was doing her part by supporting his stance on health care reform and women's right to choose.

Instead, the 28-year-old former porn actress got swept up in Weiner's cyber scandal.

Raines' decision to follow the congressman on Twitter led to sexual innuendo-laced emails from him and made her a key figure in ending Weiner's promising political career.

After the story broke in late May, she went into hiding to avoid the media that had camped out at her Tennessee home and hounded her.

In her first interview since Weiner's resignation, Raines said her sole purpose for connecting with the congressman was to support his political stance on issues she cared about and that much of her blogging about him was taken out of context. She said her own troubles with obtaining health insurance because of chronic mental illness she's had since a teenager - she once said she has paranoid schizophrenia - triggered the interaction with the former congressman. Raines also has lupus.

Through her blog, she showed her fondness for the congressman's brash style during the health care debate. Because of her own troubles with health insurance, she said he offered her a glimmer of hope that health care reform indeed would become a reality.

Raines started following the congressman on Twitter after he spoke earlier this year at one of several Walk for Choice rallies. Walk for Choice calls for women to "defend your right to bodily autonomy. Stop the GOP from eliminating access to abortion and health care," the group's website states.

"He was one of the only male politicians to attend one of the rallies and spoke during it," she said. "And when he did so, he was very adamant about the fact that women have a right to choose what women do and it's not really up to other men to legislate what a woman does with her own body because they are not the ones in possession of said uterus."

Then the national debate on health care reform came to the forefront, and she was without health insurance after being dropped from TennCare in 2008.

"That is why we actually ended up starting interacting," Raines said.

Once Weiner's texting indiscretions went public, it wasn't long before she was pulled into the scandal. She released a statement Weiner provided her, asking her to lie, and then went into hiding.

"She just wanted to stay quiet and go on with her life," said Raines' Nashville attorney, Marian Fordyce. "But now she's been portrayed as a Jezebel, whore or whatever."

Raines stepped out of hiding June 15 to give her side of the story. The congressman had asked her to lie about their communications, according to the statement Raines gave during a news conference in New York with celebrity attorney Gloria Allred at her side.

During her news conference, Raines called for Weiner's resignation while Allred read some of the estimated 100 emails Weiner had sent to Raines but none of her correspondence to him. Contacted in late June, Allred refused to release the electronic correspondence, which primarily occurred through Twitter direct messages.

Weiner's former congressional office directed calls to his campaign office in New York, and a message was not returned. His former spokesman, Dave Arnold, also did not respond.

Weiner resigned in disgrace June 16 after public pressure erupted over his texting of photos, including one of his boxer-covered crotch.

"I never even got that photo," Raines said in the interview. "Does anyone else find it odd that I'm the one everyone is focused on but never got a photo, never sent a photo? None of that."

Since Raines had gone into hiding to avoid the media, news outlets turned to her personal blog, which is under her dancing name Ginger Lee, and selectively pulled information that then was woven into stories. Words were attributed to her she never wrote. In the vast social media world, she had shared content from others on her personal blog, joining the legion of the congressman's fans who traded comments and photos.

"If you only read half of [the correspondence], it doesn't look good," she said.

In a New York Post story titled "Porn Pal Craved Pol," the writer reported that Ginger Lee wrote on her blog, "I want to have sexual relations with Anthony Weiner." That post went viral.

The post didn't start, however, with Raines/Lee, who uses the popular blogging platform Tumblr. Those words originated at another site (known as "reblogging" in the vernacular) and were the words of a male with the name "jccarter1." That post, along with other Weiner-related posts, is no longer on the Ginger Lee blog but can be found in Web cache.

"I have said I love and want to have babies with Jon Stewart, Anderson Cooper and Keith Olbermann," Raines said of her blog, adding that no one has mentioned that.

Her other posts that referred to Weiner were reblogged from other sites, as well, and attributed to her writing. Much of the language was playful and had fun with the congressman's last name.

People feel freer to say more through social media than they would in person, anonymous or not, said Randall Craig, a social media expert based in Toronto and author on the topic. But social media users also are realizing that what they write comes with accountability, said Craig, whose electronic book series is titled "Online PR & Social Media."

"We're at a point where judgment is beginning to catch up with where technology has taken us," he said.

On her blog, Raines is open about her lupus, an incurable disease that attacks the immune system and whose symptoms include excruciating joint pain, fever, rashes and bruising, as well as her struggles with not being able to get insurance.

"Physically, I'm not supposed to be dancing," she said.

But Raines said she must dance to earn the money she needs to pay her medical costs and added that she spends more than 60 percent of her income each month on medication.

She wouldn't disclose the nature of her mental illness, other than to say she was diagnosed with it as a teenager. But in early 2008, she said in a YouTube video with one of her former managers, Bad Ass Frank, the moniker for Frank Prather, that she's a paranoid schizophrenic.

"I see and hear things that aren't there and believe things that aren't happening," she told Prather in the video.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, people with this type of schizophrenia may be better able to think and function than those with other types of schizophrenia. It can be managed effectively with treatment so the person can have a happier, healthier life, the clinic's site noted.

For Raines, that means not having a break in her medication. She said she had been told she made too much money to get state assistance, but she is incapable of getting private insurance.

Despite all that has happened, the scandal hasn't soured Raines on the political process or politics. She plans to continue writing on her blog about whatever interests her, whether it's about "Don't Say Gay" legislation in Tennessee or health care and sexual abuse.

"This whole fiasco is a drop in the bucket," she said. "And it was over something so inconsequential and so insignificant that it doesn't really make a giant difference. ... I'm still going to talk about the things I care about."

Richard Lawson is a Nashville-based journalist.