Notoriously frugal despite personal wealth estimated at $3 million, Sanford slept in his office, showered at the gym, and gave back $250,000 from his office allowance—almost a third of the budget—to the federal government each year. Despite being elected in 1998 with 91 percent of the vote, he ended his service after three terms as promised.
Real estate developer, congressman, governor. Mark Sanford was born on May 28, 1960, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the eldest of four children born to Marshall C. Sanford, Sr., a cardiologist, and his wife, Margaret, a Juilliard-trained pianist. Sanford’s father bought property on St. Helena Island in the 1950s and then Coosaw Plantation in Beaufort County in 1965. The family spent holidays and summers there, where the children learned to do farm chores such as running tractors, building dikes, and castrating bulls. The family moved to Coosaw in 1978–Sanford’s senior year in high school–when his father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Sanford earned a business degree in 1983 from Furman University, where he was student body president. He worked for real estate firms in Charleston until he attended the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, graduating with a master’s degree in 1988. He met his future wife, Jennifer Sullivan, while participating in a summer training program at Goldman Sachs in New York City. Sullivan, whose family owned the company that made Skilsaws, was in mergers and acquisitions at Lazard Freres & Co. After two years working in New York, Sanford returned to South Carolina in 1990 and ultimately established a leasing and brokerage company in Charleston.
Sanford, a Republican, was elected to Congress from South Carolina’s First District in 1994 with the promise that he would serve only three terms. He became known as a fiscal conservative and voted against bills that would provide funding for his district, including money for a bridge over the Cooper River in Charleston. Notoriously frugal despite personal wealth estimated at $3 million, Sanford slept in his office, showered at the gym, and gave back $250,000 from his office allowance–almost a third of the budget–to the federal government each year. Despite being elected in 1998 with 91 percent of the vote, he ended his service after three terms as promised.
In 2002 Sanford was elected governor, ousting Governor Jim Hodges. Jenny Sanford had served as his campaign manager and then was an adviser in the governor’s office. Sanford set up panels to review government operations, one of which streamlined operations at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He had less success realizing his central campaign promise of eliminating property taxes over eighteen years and replacing them with a higher gas tax. By 2004 the General Assembly had not passed such legislation. Sanford billed himself as an “outsider,” and the Republican-controlled General Assembly treated him as such. When he vetoed numerous provisions in the 2004 state budget, the General Assembly overrode the vetoes easily and without much discussion. Sanford in turn brought pigs to the State House to criticize what he called the legislature’s “pork barrel” spending.
Sanford easily won reelection, but his relationship with the General Assembly deteriorated further. In addition his second term was rocked by scandal when he left the state unannounced for a tryst with his Argentine “soul mate.” He was confronted on his return, and his televised confessions and the surrounding publicity about his so-called hiking the Appalachian Trail became something of a national soap opera. His wife won an uncontested divorce on the grounds of adultery, and his national political reputation lay in shambles.
Just two years after he left office in disgrace, Sanford resurrected his political career. In the spring of 2013, there was a special election for his old congressional seat in the First District. He entered a primary field of sixteen candidates and won the GOP nomination easily in a run-off. Despite losing the support of the National Republican Congressional Committee and an endorsement of his Democratic opponent by the Charleston Post and Courier, Mark Sanford continued his winning streak, still never having lost an election. lyn Riddle/Walter Edgar
Eichel, Henry. “Outsider Sanford Pushing Change.” Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, May 10, 2002, pp. Y1, Y6.
Sanford, Jenny. Staying True. New York: Ballentine Books, 2010.
Smith-Brinson, Claudia. “Anti-politics Sanford Stresses Family, Land.” State, October 13, 2002, pp. A1, A11.
Smith, Glenn, Robert Behre, and Schulyer Kopf. “Mark Sanford Victor over Elizabeth Colbert Busch in 1st Congressional District Election, Road to Redemption Complete.” Charleston Post and Courier, May 7, 2003.
Spees, Wade, and staff. “Second Chance: The Mark Sanford Story.” Charleston Post and Courier, May 12, 2003.