You probably have never heard of New Mexico politician Michael Wiener. Neither had a Seattle photographer when he ran into him one night last month in a Philippines sex district.
Wiener was spending time in the Angeles City red light district when he apparently stopped a photographer on the street to take a picture of him posing with a quartet of scantily clad women in an area well known as a hub of prostitution.
It turned out, however, the photographer was not just some American tourist taking in the sights. He was a professional photographer named John Keatley, who was in the country documenting the sex tourism industry.
Now, the Bernalillo County commissioner and ex-state senator is facing questions about what exactly he was doing there after the photographer posted the photos online along with a description of the encounter.
“You can’t assume anyone there on the street is there for sex,” Keatley said Thursday in an interview with TPM. “But my encounter with Michael Wiener was very different…It was very obvious to me that he was not respectful to women. He was there to have a good time.”
Keatley said the women in the photo were what are called “bar girls.” They are often prostitutes who work at bars in a section of the city known to have one of the most booming sex trades in the world. “There is this place where everyone is for sale and boatloads of Americans are going there for one purpose only,” Keatley said.
Albuquerque, N.M., television station KOB-TV confronted the Republican commissioner with the photograph this week and gave him a chance to respond. Wiener acknowledged he was the person shown in the picture but denied he was there to pay for sex. He said he was in the area with his girlfriend and that the two of them were waiting to catch a plane to visit his daughter in a nearby city.
Wiener had a tougher time explaining some of the things the photographer reportedly heard the politician say.
Keatley said the politician gave him advice about which hotel to stay at in the area if he was looking for a good time. He said he also heard him suggest to one of the girls that she could touch his penis.
“I may have made a comment like don’t get too close to my girlfriends here, but I didn’t mention anything like that,” Wiener told KOB-TV.
Keatley said he had no idea what Wiener did for a living when he first ran into him. He only found out after the man gave him an email address and asked to be sent copies of the photos. Later that day, Keatley used the address to look him up on Facebook.
“I’ve never heard of him before,” he said. “I never would have had a clue of who he was unless he gave me his email address.”
The photographer said he hopes that by revealing the politicians trip to the area, he can bring more attention to sexual exploitation and sex tourism in particular. He said Americans often travel to these destinations to pay for encounters with women or men who have been forced into the trade or forced to remain in it. “It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Wiener has faced questions over his actions. He was cleared in an investigation (paywall) last year after a female staffer in the county complained that he sexually harassed her by complimenting her on her looks and making jokes like “Did you know that the (County Commission) now has a Wiener and a Johnson on it?” He acknowledged making the joke but said he didn’t mean for it to be sexual.
Wiener was also forced to apologize in 2010 after sending out an email with a joke that “makes reference to President Barack Obama, African-Americans, showers and prisons,” according to another New Mexico television station.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com