Foley shocker jolts race, GOP
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 30, 2006
WASHINGTON — Mark Foley abruptly resigned from Congress on Friday, ending his political career amid a growing scandal involving his conduct with teenage boys.
After being confronted with a series of sexually explicit chat messages and e-mails he allegedly sent to congressional pages, Foley resigned within hours.
Rep. Mark Foley resigns over Internet contact with teens
ABC News releases a 2003 Internet chat between Mark Foley and a former congressional page.Warning: Reader discretion advised. Material contains sexually explicit language.Read the chats:
Who will win Foley's House seat?
Democrat Tim Mahoney
GOP replacement candidate
Foley's district was shocked by the news. Republicans in Washington worried about losing Foley's seat and control of Congress. And GOP leaders in Florida scrambled to find a new candidate to run against Democrat Tim Mahoney, who instantly went from long shot to front-runner.
Meanwhile, Foley went into seclusion at his Washington townhouse facing the possibility that the scandal destroying his political career could result in further investigation of his conduct.
"I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent," Foley said in a statement released by his office.
Foley, 52, faxed his resignation to Gov. Jeb Bush at 3:41 p.m. and sent a copy to House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
"I hereby resign as the representative of the 16th Congressional District of Florida, effective today," Foley said in the one-sentence letter.
Hastert told reporters he has asked the head of the board that oversees congressional pages "to look into this issue regarding Congressman Foley. We want to make sure that all our pages are safe and the page system is safe.... None of us are very happy about it."
Foley, who is single, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994. He is a former Lake Worth city commissioner, state representative and state senator. He moved to Fort Pierce last year.
Popular and affable, Foley built a reputation as a hardworking moderate Republican who at times was at odds with the White House. He was an outspoken opponent of sexual predators and pushed for stronger laws against them.
Minutes after his resignation, the normally open front door to Foley's congressional office was closed. A copy of BusinessWeek and two copies of Aviation Weekly were on the floor outside. His guest book had just one undecipherable signature for the day — someone from Palm Springs.
"If the charges are true, it is indefensible," said Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party. "I'm in shock. This is a guy who is one of the most popular congressmen in the country."
But apparently there was another side to Foley.
On Sunday, reports began circulating about e-mails that Foley sent a year ago to a former 16-year-old congressional page from Louisiana. The e-mails were posted on a blog devoted to exposing sexual predators. How the blog acquired the e-mails is unclear, but the boy had passed them to a congressional staffer last year, calling one of Foley's e-mails "sick, sick, sick, sick."
In the e-mails, Foley asked for a photograph of the page, how old he was going to be on his birthday and what he wanted for his birthday. The page relayed Foley's e-mails to a staffer for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who had recommended the student for the page position.
Alexander told The Palm Beach Post on Friday that he became aware of the e-mails about 10 months ago when his press secretary was asked about them by a reporter. Alexander said he contacted the page's family members, who said they did not want to talk about the matter.
Alexander said the page never discussed the e-mails with him and that his staffer, who has since left his office, did not mention them to him. The mother of the page told The Post on Friday that she was aware of the e-mail exchange between her son and Foley but declined to comment further.
The situation grew worse for Foley on Friday when ABC News received copies of AOL instant messages between Foley and another teenage boy.
Foley's language with the boy is extremely sexually explicit. At one point in the conversation the boy says he will "brb (be right back), my mother is yelling."
Congressional staff members who asked not to be identified said it was widely known among Hill staffers and some House leaders that Foley had been engaging in inappropriate conduct and language with young aides.
One highly placed staff member said Foley's abrupt resignation may have been demanded by Republican leaders who have been aware for some time about allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Foley's campaign staff had said Foley routinely asked for pictures of former interns and others who might be seeking a recommendation.
But staff directors for Reps. Robert Wexler, D-Delray Beach, and Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, said they do not ask for photographs and if such a thing were done it would be done by a staffer, not the congressman.
E-mailers flooded blogs and Web sites Friday with allegations that Foley is gay, allegations he has confronted in the past by saying it was no one's business and he would not address it.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman, who served with Foley in the state Senate and in Congress, said in a statement that "today's news is disturbing. As a public servant, there are two things Congressman Mark Foley needs to do now, out of respect for all Floridians: Come clean and get help. Congressman Foley needs to seek counseling in addition to accepting any consequences related to the law."
Fellow Republican U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale also had tough words for Foley:
"This type of behavior is what I try to protect my grandchildren from. It is unacceptable. He should have resigned. Members of Congress are responsible for protecting the most vulnerable among us — our children. I support the speaker's decision to investigate the page program."
And Mahoney, the Democrat who hoped to defeat Foley in the November election, said: "The challenges facing Congressman Foley make this is a difficult time for the people of the 16th District. The families of all of those involved are in our thoughts and prayers."
Foley's decline was so rapid that some had trouble grasping it.
"I love Mark Foley," said Ann Decker, his district manager. "Next to my husband I couldn't love him any more."
Sobbing, Decker said: "Of course, it's bad. At 3 o'clock you get a call that he is resigning from Congress. It is devastating."
Kirk Fordham, who worked as Foley's chief of staff for 10 years, returned to Foley's side to advise him during the past couple of days.
"He has the ability to look forward and see how things play out," Fordham said. "He wanted to do what was right for his family and for his district."
Throughout his career, Foley was always trying to figure out how things would play out.
A Lake Worth High School graduate, Foley was so eager to make a name for himself that he skipped college to go to work. At 20, Foley opened a restaurant in Lake Worth, The Lettuce Patch. By age 23, he was on the Lake Worth City Commission. In 1990, he was elected to the state House and surprised everyone two years later when he ran against incumbent Democrat Eleanor Weinstock for her state Senate seat.
Foley won that 1992 race, then surprised everyone again when he ran for Congress in 1994 when Republican Tom Lewis decided to retire.
His biggest setback came in 2003, when Foley abandoned a U.S. Senate race after his father became ill with cancer. Foley's older sister, Donna, his closest confidant and campaign adviser, was being forced to take care of their parents. Brother and sister decided the race could not go on.
An uncontrollably sobbing Foley broke the news to a Post reporter.
With his statewide career over, Foley appeared content to stay in the U.S. House, building on seniority and climbing the ranks of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Internal Republican Party polls suggested that Foley would retain his congressional seat in November despite a vigorous challenge from Mahoney.
That was good news to Hastert and other GOP leaders, who have been worried that they will lose control of Congress to the Democrats this year because of voter unhappiness with the Iraq war, the Bush administration and congressional scandals.
Foley's apparently safe seat had allowed Republican strategists to concentrate on other races, but Foley's resignation now increases the odds that Mahoney will win the seat and helps the Democrats' chances to win control of the House.
Foley's campaign staff Thursday blamed the revelation of the e-mails on Mahoney. Mahoney's campaign denied any involvement but called for an investigation.
Before Foley's resignation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint Friday with the House Ethics Committee calling for an investigation of Foley's conduct. The group also asked the FBI to investigate Foley.
That request to the ethics panel now becomes a moot issue because the committee investigates only the conduct of current members.
Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, spokeswoman for the U.S. Capitol Police, said they were not investigating.
Ironically, Foley has been an outspoken opponent of sexual predators. As chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, he introduced legislation in July to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. He also sponsored other legislation designed to protect minors from abuse and neglect.
"We track library books better than we do sexual predators," Foley said.