A local politician is feeling the heat from an international scandal.
Over the weekend, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) admitted to swimming nude in the Sea of Galilee during a visit to Israel by a group of freshman Republican congresspersons, which included Rep. Tom Reed of New York's 29th district.
Reed is currently running against Democrat Nate Shinagawa here in New York's newly formed 23rd Congressional District, which includes Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties along with others in the Southern Tier. The trip was made in August 2011 and was funded by a non-profit organization, the American Israel Education Foundation. The Sea of Galilee is a lake where Jesus is said to have walked on water.
Reed said that while he was aware Yoder admitted to skinny dipping, he did not witness the incident.
"My wife and I did go swimming in the Sea of Galilee with a big group of people. We were appropriately clothed. ... From my perspective, we didn't see anything that was inappropriate," Reed said in a conference call on Monday morning.
"It was after a casual dinner. We were in shorts and a golf shirt. ... We decided to join the group and go swimming," Reed said.
The incident is alleged to have been investigated by the FBI. Reed's press contact, Tim Kolpein, told the OBSERVER via email Reed saw "no impropriety and he is unaware of any investigation."
In the conference call, Reed told callers, "No authorities contacted our office. There was no reason from my perspective for there to be an investigation."
It has been reported alcohol was involved throughout the evening and Yoder was the only member of the group to disrobe before entering the water. Many in the group are reported to have gone swimming in the the Sea of Galilee, which is not illegal. However, public nudity is illegal in the region.
"I believe Mr. Yoder ... did come out and admit he did do that. Obviously that was not appropriate," Reed explained.
When asked about the timing of the news, Reed noted, "It's interesting that almost a year later, this is coming out. It reminded me that as a public official, we live in a fish bowl. We're going to have to consider that in the future. ... Bottom line is we have nothing to hide."
Nate Shinagawa, Reed's opponent in the local congressional race, responded to the incident in a press release.
"The trip to a country considered a holy land by Americans and Israelis alike included meetings with Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It took a turn that outraged Republican party leadership and prompted an FBI investigation," Shinagawa said in the statement. "These lawmakers had the privilege of a free trip to Israel to learn about its rich history, religious traditions, and present challenges, but their behavior was irresponsible and disrespectful to those who consider the Sea of Galilee a holy place. We must be able to trust our elected officials to behave appropriately while representing our district in Washington and our country while overseas."
Shinagawa added, "It's disappointing to see our district in the national spotlight for a scandal at a time when the focus must be on job creation and economic growth."
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