COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Wednesday he spent last weekend in Florida with his Argentine lover, hoping to rekindle the affair that wrecked his marriage and his political future and brought a formal rebuke from legislators for embarrassing the state.
At a news conference on an unrelated issue, Sanford conceded he owes the public the assurance that he's safe and in communication with his office but said the media is obsessed with his personal life.
Sanford did not mention Maria Belen Chapur of Argentina by name when asked about a weekend trip out of state about which his staff has refused to provide details. But the governor, now divorced, left no room for doubt.
"As a matter of record, everybody in this room knows exactly who I was with over the weekend," Sanford said. "That is no mystery to anybody given what I said last summer. And, you know, the purpose was obviously to see if something could be restarted on that front given the rather enormous geographic gulf between us. And time will tell. I don't know if it will or won't."
Questions arose after the website Gawker posted comments from tipsters who reported seeing Sanford in the Florida Keys this past weekend with a tall, attractive brunette they assumed was Chapur. Sanford said he didn't stay at the hotel mentioned in that posting or a subsequent published report.
He said Wednesday that he owed it to the public to say he was being protected by Florida law enforcement on the trip and that he was in touch with his office while away. His safety and accessibility became issues when he disappeared for five days last summer after he slipped his security detail and left no word on where he had gone. That raised questions about who was in charge of the state.
"I think, that, you know, those two things I owe you all. But this obsession with one's personal life at some point has got to end," Sanford said. "I think the people of South Carolina have so far along moved past this that it is ridiculous that some – and I say – an isolated some in the media have been preoccupied and focused on it."
The "obsession with one's personal life needs to come to an end. And we've got to move from tabloid journalism into real journalism," Sanford said.
He slammed one of the state largest newspapers for reporting based on Gawker's report that he was staying at celebrity resort in the Florida Keys.
Sanford walked out of the news conference before providing details about the trip or saying if it was the first time he had seen Chapur since he vanished from the state in June and returned to say he had been in Argentina visiting her. He told his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He appeared before cameras to tearfully admit the yearlong affair with the woman he described days later as his soul mate in an interview with The Associated Press.
Since then, Sanford has been censured by the House. Wife Jenny Sanford divorced him in March after penning a tell-all book describing their relationship. She's now dating a Georgia businessman.
And Mark Sanford agreed to pay the largest ethics fines in state history for, among other things, his use of state planes for personal and political purposes.
The term-limited Republican, once considered a possible 2012 presidential contender, leaves office in January after completing his second term.
Meanwhile, Jenny Sanford has been a popular talk show guest whose political capital is rising. On Thursday she'll be "Dr. Phil" recalling the affair. And on Friday, she'll be campaigning for state Rep. Nikki Haley in her GOP primary bid to replace Sanford and become the state's first woman chief executive.