One of the most baffling aspects of Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen's 18-month affair with a county employee is why he sometimes did so little to hide his romantic outings with Sonia Manhas.
“Employees at Multnomah County have spotted Chair Cogen kissing Sonia Manhas in front of the Kenton Library," says the anonymous email that caused Cogen to confess the affair this week, "and in a booth and at a bar in Portland along with a few other ‘sightings.’”
Cogen denied any kissing outside the public library branch, but admitted to meeting Manhas in bars. Documents released by the county show the two used government emails to arrange meals away from colleagues, hinted at assignations after public events, and even attended a Rush concert together with his teenage son.
WW spoke with experts to try to understand why the county’s highest elected official was so reckless.
Kathy Marshack, a local marriage counselor and licensed psychologist, says a person who is cheating on his or her spouse seldom tries to get caught.
“A person who is generally a good person doing bad things is not as good at covering their tracks,” Marshack says. “And a powerful person may flaunt it.”
Stephanie Coontz, a historian at Evergreen State College and author of Marriage, a History, says Cogen’s actions don't suggest a trend of cheating politicians but a throwback to a previous era.
“I think the guy is 40 years behind the times,” Coontz says. “Some politicians do seem to be. They think it’s just part of the job perks and people won’t care—or ‘I’m so important people won't tell on me.’”
As to why people do care, Coontz says though we are now a more sexually permissive society, we’ve become less permissive of lying, infidelity and nonconsensual sex.
“We have much higher expectations of fidelity and mutuality in marriage,” Coontz says. “In this particular case, the fact that she works for him doubles the problem. He’s abusing his political position of power as well as his position in his own life.”
Based on their calendars, Manhas revealed less about their relationship than did Cogen. On dates where Cogen's government calendar mention's Manhas' name during their lunch meetings, her calendar is marked simply "lunch" or "lunch hold."
Marshack and Coontz say Manhas may have been more cautious because women are often judged as far worse than men in cases of infidelity.
“The public doesn’t like it when a leader is caught doing something like this," Marshack says. "We don’t trust them for a while and then we get over it. Or, we even condemn the woman involved. Women are treated much more harshly for that behavior, because of cultural biases.”