Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.), convicted of having sexual relations with an underage campaign volunteer, said Friday night that he will resign his congressional seat effective Oct. 1.
The 43-year-old lawmaker, whose private life was thrown open to the world in embarrassing sexual detail, made the announcement before a national TV audience on CNN's "Larry King Live."
Reynolds told King at the opening of the scheduled hourlong interview that he had instructed his aides to notify House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) of his intention to resign.
"I made a very stupid immature mistake. . . . I allowed myself to get involved in a conversation with someone . . . and had a fantasy phone sex conversation with this woman," the two-term lawmaker told King.
He said he was sorry for those he may have let down.
Reynolds, who is black, reiterated his claim that the case against him was motivated by racial bias. He added that his accuser not only had a lucrative book contract before the start of the trial but admitted to him that she could easily be swayed by his white critics.
"She would do anything that people with white skin and blond hair and blue eyes told her to--that's what she said," Reynolds told King.
The House Ethics Committee already has Reynolds under investigation. Among those who urged the former Rhodes scholar to resign before he is expelled are House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.).
Reynolds was convicted Aug. 22 of criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, child pornography and obstruction of justice. He faces at least four years in prison at his Sept. 12 sentencing.
Even if Reynolds manages to extricate himself from his legal problems in an appeals court, his political career appears destroyed.
No prominent political backers have stood behind him. And three state senators and Jesse Jackson Jr., son of the veteran civil rights leader, are considering a run for the House from his 2nd Congressional District, which stretches across Chicago's South Side and into the suburbs.
During the trial, prosecutors played for the jury tape recordings of sexually explicit phone conversations between Reynolds and Beverly Heard, now 19. She launched the investigation in June, 1992, by telling police she had sex with Reynolds when she was 16 and 17.
The language on the tapes was raw and graphic. He reminisced with Heard about sexual relations between them. What he didn't know was that the phone conversation was being taped by Chicago police working with the Cook County state's attorney's office.
Reynolds took the witness stand at his trial and accused Heard of lying. He said he had never actually touched her and had merely indulged in telephone sexual fantasies. He said he had become the victim of racial bias on the part of a politically motivated prosecutor.
Heard refused for more than a week to testify against Reynolds but relented after being jailed for contempt of court and threatened with prison.