BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford proposed marriage to his Argentine lover in the same way he has lived since their affair derailed his political career: combining elements of secrecy with unfiltered expressions of love, and a touch of the weird as well.
Sanford confirmed Sunday that hes engaged to Maria Belen Chapur, an intensely private divorced woman whose affair with the married Republican father of four children became tabloid news three years ago.
He proposed to her on Wednesday in the Bella Italia Grille, a high-end restaurant in the upscale Palermo neighborhood, around the corner from Chapurs luxury apartment, the restaurants manager said Sunday.
The couple have been regular customers at the restaurant, but this time they arrived separately. Sanford arrived first and considered a table in the main dining room but then turned it down as too noisy, said the restaurant manager, who gave his name only as Gustavo.
The manager said Sanford settled on a table for two near the door and left the engagement ring in a small box with one of the waiters, telling him to give it to Chapur when she arrived. Then he hid in the bathroom for guests with disabilities, where cracking open the door provides a direct view of the table, and waited for more than an hour before she finally arrived, the manager said.
The waiter then gave Chapur the box, telling her something about winning a prize. She opened it and seemed puzzled to see the ring until Sanford walked up, declared his love and asked her to marry him. She quickly said yes and they kissed and cried, but no one else in the restaurant seemed to notice, the manager said.
Were very discreet. They are, too. Nobody noticed. They really are private people, said the manager, who declined to give his last name and said protecting his clients was paramount.
Sanford, who was South Carolinas governor from 2003 to 2011, had been a rising star in the Republican party when he disappeared from the state for five days in 2009. Reporters were told he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. But when he returned to South Carolina, Sanford admitted he was instead in Argentina with Chapur, whom he later called his soul mate.
Sanfords wife, Jenny, divorced him, and his political career was derailed. The affair also prompted impeachment hearings over Sanfords use of state planes, campaign cash and first-class travel. The former South Carolina congressman ended up paying $74,000 in ethics fines.
When asked about the engagement by The AP, Sanford simply vouched for the accuracy of a statement released earlier in the day.
Id love to talk but were going to end up in no-mans land, Sanford told the AP.