CLARENCE, N.Y. (AP) -- A married congressman from New York accused of sending a shirtless photo of himself to a woman has abruptly resigned, and dismayed constituents said his admission to "profound mistakes" seemed out of character for the attentive and committed lawmaker they'd come to know.
Rep. Christopher Lee, a two-term Republican with a young son, had e-mailed the photo to a woman he met on Craigslist, the gossip website Gawker reported Wednesday.
"People in power do the darndest things," Clarence Center resident Bob Dickinson, 65, said as he cleaned up following a Town Board meeting in Lee's hometown Wednesday night. "I don't know if he was trying to prove something or what."
Lee said in an e-mailed statement that his resignation was effective immediately. The statement offered no confirmation or details of a Craigslist post.
Lee's resignation comes as this upscale Buffalo suburb is about to mark the two-year anniversary of the deadly crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 onto a house.
Lee has been a visible supporter of victims' families and the aviation safety reforms they've sought since the Feb. 12, 2009, crash. He appeared with several crash victims' families at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.
But the following day he posted the surprise announcement on his congressional website: "I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness."
Lee, a businessman who won his seat in 2008, cultivated a family-values voting record in the House, earning an 88 percent approval rating from the American Conservative Union for his 2010 votes. He voted in favor of a ban on federal funding of abortion in the health care overhaul, in line with the group's position on the proposed ban, which was defeated in the House. He also voted against the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy prohibiting service by openly gay men and women.
Lee said the challenges faced in western New York, where he serves the 26th Congressional District, and across the country are "too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately."
When Mike Metzger saw the picture Lee is accused of sending, he figured someone was "playing games" at Lee's expense. The photo shows Lee apparently taking a cell phone picture in a mirror while flexing his right bicep in front of him.
"Chris Lee is too smart of a man to do something like this," Metzger, a Clarence civil engineer, said before hearing of the resignation. "Unfortunately, (resigning) so quickly seems to imply guilt."
Lee's resignation comes almost a year after Democrat Eric Massa resigned his seat in western New York's 29th Congressional District amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers. Massa gave contradictory explanations for his behavior, acknowledging he groped and tickled a staffer in a nonsexual way and wrestled with others at his 50th birthday party, but then denying any groping occurred.
In Lee's case, a woman described as a 34-year-old Maryland resident and government employee provided Gawker with e-mails she said were an exchange between her and Lee in response to an ad she placed last month in the Women Seeking Men section of Craigslist.
Lee identified himself as a divorced lobbyist and sent a photo of himself, Gawker reported. The woman told Gawker she eventually broke off the contact with Lee after becoming suspicious that he had misrepresented himself.
Lee served on the House Ways and Means Committee and was active on economic revitalization issues. He has a business background stemming from his family's manufacturing enterprises.
Scott Maurer, whose daughter was one of the 50 people killed in the 2009 crash, said Lee was "a hard worker and a good guy" who "loved and cared for" his community.
"He was 100 percent professional with us, 100 percent supportive and seriously was considerate and concerned with aviation safety, so to hear that he's resigned is a huge loss of support for our efforts," Maurer said.
Clarence Supervisor Scott Bylewski said Lee had represented the town effectively.
"I do wish him and his family the best as they deal with the matter that's before him," he said.
The congressman hadn't submitted his resignation to the New York secretary of state Wednesday evening, said a state official who wasn't authorized to speak on the issue and spoke on the condition of anonymity. After Lee submits his resignation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo could schedule a special election.
Cuomo, a Democrat, had no comment Wednesday night.
Associated Press writers Andrew Miga in Washington and Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)