South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford and her four sons vacated the Governor’s Mansion on Friday and returned to the couple’s Sullivan’s Island home, where she said they would live for the upcoming school year.
Jenny Sanford and at least seven other women spent several hours Friday packing up four sport utility vehicles.
Women carried armloads of clothing on hangers, boxes, a small appliance and other items to the cars. Much of the clothing had been stuffed into plastic bags.
The departure, carried out as Jenny Sanford announced the move in a statement, is viewed as evidence of a further estrangement from Gov. Mark Sanford. She said she discovered in January that her husband had been involved in an extramarital affair.
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For months the Sanfords have been trying to work on their marriage.
“While we will be leaving Columbia, we will return often,” Jenny Sanford said in a statement, “and I will remain engaged in activities in my role as first lady, acknowledging that my responsibilities to my family come first.”
Mark Sanford, 49, publicly admitted to the affair in June, after he was met by a reporter from The State newspaper in an Atlanta airport after his return flight from Argentina. Sanford had been visiting his lover, Maria Belen Chapur, over a five-day period in which virtually no one knew of his whereabouts. He had told his staffers he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Sanford’s disappearance came during the June 21 Father’s Day weekend.
On Friday morning at the mansion, three of the four Sanford children were seen carrying small bags, and hopping into a black SUV driven by a member of the state security detail.
Earlier, one of the boys had posted a sign in a second-floor window saying hello to former Sanford spokesman Will Folks.
Jenny Sanford smiled and waved as she left the mansion, but did not stop to speak with reporters. She hugged many of the women assisting with the move before leaving the mansion.
The Sanfords returned three days ago from a long-planned trip to Europe.
The couple have said individually at various times since Sanford’s public confession, that they were working to restore their marital relationship.
Two weeks ago, the Sanfords left the state together for south Florida, where they were to visit with Jenny Sanford’s family and work on their relationship.
In her Friday statement, Jenny Sanford did not mention her husband or their marital relationship. She said she reached the decision to return to Charleston with the couple’s four sons “after much careful and prayerful consideration.”
“From there, we will work to continue the process of healing our family,” the first lady said.
Gov. Sanford later Friday also issued a separate statement on her departure from the mansion, calling it a “decision that we felt best, both for our process of reconciliation, and for the boys in the upcoming school year.”
Sanford has been the subject of withering criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for his actions, both from the personal standpoint regarding his infidelity, and for shirking his public trust and responsibility.
His ability to continue leading the state also has been questioned, including by his own party.
The governor has been sharply criticized for spending only about 50 percent of the working year in scheduled, office-related work.
In his June 24 public confession in Columbia, Sanford said he would work to regain the trust of South Carolina residents, including lawmakers, with whom he has had a rocky, often dysfunctional relationship for his nearly seven years in office.
Speaking at a 2 p.m. press conference Friday in Beaufort, where he named a new county clerk of court, Sanford said the couple’s sons would attend the private Porter Gaud School in West Ashley. The Sanford boys had attended private Heathwood Hall in Columbia.
Sanford’s office would not discuss how two full-time Sanford residences would affect the security detail that protects the governor and his family.
Mark Sanford said the couple had been weighing this decision for weeks.
“Well before our trip to Europe, this was something we contemplated,” Sanford said to reporters outside the Beaufort County Courthouse. “It was not entered into lightly, but with a whole lot of thought and prayer.”
Both Sanfords asked for privacy.
“It’s a family matter, and we will certainly respect the family’s privacy,” said Phil Bailey, executive director of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “However, some in the caucus will certainly question whether he can repair his family and the state at the same time.”
Republican Sen. Larry Grooms of Berkeley was among the majority of Republicans in the state Senate who urged Sanford to resign.
He said Friday it was time for all to move ahead.
“I wish Mark and Jenny well in their efforts to restore their marriage,” said Grooms, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate.
The Beaufort Gazette contribute to this report. Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398.