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Interest dwindles in airport arrest site

The airport bathroom where U.S. Sen. Larry Craig was arrested in a sex sting has become a tourist attraction.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
The airport bathroom where U.S. Sen. Larry Craig was arrested in a sex sting has become a tourist attraction. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

For more than a year, it was the most famous public restroom in the country, but things are decidedly more commonplace now around the airport men’s room where an Idaho senator once was arrested.

“It is the busiest restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International,” said Patrick Hogan, director of public affairs for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “It’s right in the middle of our main thoroughfare.”

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was one of 40 men arrested there in 2007 in a sex-solicitation sting, launched because of frequent complaints about lewd conduct in the busy airport restroom. After news of the arrest surfaced, the bathroom became a tourist attraction, and the Airports Commission considered spending tens of thousands of dollars to extend stall walls down closer to the floor to prevent occupants from passing illicit signals in the gap beneath them.

An undercover officer said Craig peered into his stall, and then entered the next stall and solicited him with a series of foot-taps and hand gestures under the stall wall. Craig, who initially pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, later said the officer had misconstrued his actions. Craig fought unsuccessfully to withdraw his guilty plea. He maintained he’d done nothing wrong and isn’t gay.

Craig at first said he’d resign from the Senate but then changed his mind and served out his term, which ends this month. He didn’t seek re-election.

Hogan said the airport finally decided against any restroom modifications for simple financial reasons, and because the surge of publicity brought an abrupt end to the activity that had prompted the lewd-conduct complaints.

“The restroom looks exactly as it was when the senator was arrested,” he said. “Why spend tens of thousands of dollars, when the problem had dissipated due to the publicity over the senator’s arrest?”

The Airports Commission has heard plenty about its famous bathroom since the infamous arrest. At one point, a potential buyer sent a certified letter offering $5,000 to purchase the fateful restroom stall. The commission didn’t sell. “We would not want to do that to the senator,” Hogan said. “We’d want to treat this case like we do any other, and we don’t sell fixtures for novelty purposes.”

Someone else posted toilet paper supposedly from the stall for sale on eBay, Hogan said.

The restroom also became a focal point when the national Republican Party convention was held in Minneapolis-St. Paul in September. A crew from “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” filmed a segment outside it; airport officials rejected the show’s request to film inside. “It’s a functioning restroom – people were using it,” Hogan said.

That was the last film crew to show up, and Hogan said people are starting to treat the restroom as just, well, a restroom. “We’re getting there,” he said. “I think we’ll all be glad when there’s no special interest in that restroom.”

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