Just a few months ago, Carmen Kontur-Gronquist was many things — small-town mayor, single mother, health-care administrator and fitness buff. Today, she’s best known for one thing: being the mayor who was stripped of her office over an online picture of her in her underwear.
“Do I apologize for the photos on MySpace?” she asked rhetorically during an interview on Monday in New York with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira. “No, I don’t.”
Instead, Kontur-Gronquist is selling poster-size, autographed prints of the picture that launched a recall election — and headlines around the world — in the tiny town of Arlington, Ore.
“I had thousands of people e-mail me on MySpace and [ask] for signed photos,” the 42-year-old said. “We thought about it. We will be donating a portion back to the local ambulance service I’m very involved with and to our health district.”
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In the news stories, the picture, which shows her posing on a town fire truck in an opaque black bra and matching boy-short panties, is invariably described as either “racy” or “risqué.” In reality, she pointed out, the picture doesn’t show as much as the average swimsuit.
“These people know me,” she said of the 500 people who call the town in northeast Oregon home. “They know that I was a lifeguard for four years in a string bikini much more revealing than what’s on the poster.”
The picture — and others showing her in two-piece workout outfits — was taken by a relative back in 2004 when Kontur-Gronquist was thinking about entering a fitness contest sponsored by Sports Illustrated magazine. The shots show off her washboard abs and well-toned physique.
She decided not to enter the contest and went on with her life. In 2005, she ran for and won the office of mayor of Arlington, an unpaid position, on a platform of fiscal reform.
Then, in January 2007, a relative put the pictures on a MySpace page, hoping that they would help Kontur-Gronquist’s social life.
“There was never Arlington on there,” Kontur-Gronquist said in describing the Web page. “It just said ‘United States.’ It never said I was the mayor. It never revealed where I was from.”
But someone in town saw the pictures and told someone who told someone else — and, well, you get the idea. Before long, the pictures were being printed up and distributed around town. When they hit the streets, she was on vacation, and the task of telling her about it fell to her 18-year-old daughter, Julianne, a high school senior.
“I received a phone call from my daughter a couple days before I flew home stating that city hall had received some calls stating that somebody was dispersing the pictures through town,” she said. “I immediately called each one of my council members. I did not apologize for the photo, but I did apologize for putting them in that position if they felt uncomfortable. At that point, I thought the situation was done and resolved.”
Instead, the “situation” had just started. She had some political enemies in town who had lined up against her over two local issues — water, and a town golf course that had been built before she took office.
Her foes formed a recall committee and succeeded in scheduling an election to see if she should continue in office. On Feb. 25, she was voted out of office by a razor-thin margin of 142 to 139.
“I think the photos were used for a trigger point for the recall committee,” she said. “That’s fine. That’s a democratic process, and that’s fair and I respect that.”
She has 35 days from the election to decide whether to ask for a recount, and she said that although she thinks there may be reason to challenge it, she hasn’t decided what to do.
“There’s about eight people now that have been confirmed that did not receive their ballots,” she explained.
Kontur-Gronquist said the pictures are still on MySpace, although now they’re protected from general view. Her main concern, she said, is her daughter and how it’s affecting her in school, where the pictures and the election have been much discussed.
Vieira asked Kontur-Gronquist how the controversy has affected Julianne.
“It’s been tough, it’s been very tough,” she replied. “This is supposed to be her remembering year, her last year in school. She’s done great, though. She’s been a great support. The recall took its process. Right now I hope that we can start focusing on her schooling, getting her into school. Where we go from there, I’m not quite sure.”
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