(13-WHAM, Sean Carroll) A Monroe County legislator running for re-election on Tuesday has admitted that he posted naked photos of himself on a website that he uses for both personal and professional reasons.
Stephen Eckel removed two of the photos Friday after 13WHAM's Sean Carroll questioned Eckel, a Democrat, about the photographs. Those two images very clearly showed his private parts and were accessible on the website without any filters, disclaimers, or warnings.
There is no doubting that the photos are presented as art and Eckel confirmed that they are of him and were part of a class project he worked on eleven years ago while pursuing a Master's of Fine Arts degree.
"I invite people to look at it and judge for themselves,” Eckel said in an interview with 13WHAM News hours after this was brought to his attention. “This is art. This is my art. This is my work and as a professor of photography that's what they want to see if they're evaluating me for a position."
In addition to being a photographer and artist, Eckel has also taught as a professor at many local colleges; most recently as an adjunct photography professor at Genesee Community College and for a few years at Hobart & William Smith Colleges.
For the last six years Eckel has represented the 26th legislative district in Monroe County, which includes Rochester, Gates, Greece, and Irondequoit. In 2012, due to re-districting and population shifts, the boundaries of the district will no longer include Irondequoit. He was appointed to the county legislature in 2005, elected to a two-year term later that year, and re-elected in 2007 to a four-year term.
"I don't have a problem with it, I don't have an issue with it as long as he's not sending these pictures out to little kids," Tina Despos said while describing herself as an independent voter living in Eckel’s district. "If he's a good guy and he has a good judgment and he's looking out for the welfare of the community I don't see a problem with the artistic side of what he's doing."
"I wouldn't even listen to him, I wouldn't even speak to him for that,” Andy Pena, a parent and voter in Eckel’s district said after seeing some of the photos on the website. “Those images are inappropriate. How would you represent the city and look like that on the Internet? That's inappropriate."
On Tuesday Eckel will face Republican Tony Micciche in the general election.
13WHAM News learned about Eckel’s website from a Republican Party source who was not an elected leader, nor was it his opponent. Independent confirmation of its contents and about how easy it was to locate during a search engine query were part of the newsgathering process.
"I don't see how anybody can not question the judgment of someone who puts something like this up on a website, especially where there's no safeguards for children to be protected from it,” Micciche said. He added that he only learned about the website and its images on Friday morning and that he had not seen personally seen the photos.
Friday afternoon Eckel explained why he removed two of the photos on that website less than an hour after 13WHAM News contacted him about it.
"I took down two images because they would distract from the, from the campaign,” Eckel said. “Purely and simply."
“The sheer fact that you have to remove them, that should say enough to all voters," Micciche countered.
Eckel said he blames his opponent for the attention that this is only now receiving. He called it a “smear tactic” that conveniently surfaced days before the election.
"I think the voters are more concerned with the issues facing Monroe County than a photograph that I took as part of an art project ten, eleven years ago," Eckel said.
Eckel tells 13WHAM News that he has never once had a constituent or member of the public contact him about this website or its content. He said he has never shown any of his work to his students. He also admitted he was not aware this was as easy to find on Google as we told him it was.