Lawmaker quits amid scandal

U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a South Florida Republican, reportedly sent suggestive e-mails to former pages.

Published September 30, 2006

WASHINGTON - Rep. Mark Foley, a South Florida congressman and star in the state Republican Party, resigned Friday after revelations that he exchanged sexually explicit e-mails with teenage boys who had been congressional pages.

Foley, R-Fort Pierce, gave no explanation for his abrupt departure, issuing only a brief statement: "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's resignation shocked his Florida colleagues, roiled the Capitol on one of the busiest days of the year, and created turmoil in his east coast district just five weeks before the election.

Rep. Clay Shaw, a Republican from Fort Lauderdale who has worked with Foley for more than a decade, issued a blistering statement that typified the reaction of Foley's House colleagues: "This type of behavior is what I try to protect my grandchildren from. It is unacceptable. He should have resigned."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert asked the head of the House page program to launch an investigation. "We want to make sure that all our pages are safe," Hastert said.

An ABC News Web site first reported on Thursday that Foley sent e-mails last year to a 16-year-old who had just left the congressional page program. In one e-mail, Foley asked the boy for his photograph.

Then on Friday, the ABC News Web site published a transcript of an instant message exchange Foley had with another teenager in which he urged the boy to "strip down and get relaxed."

Foley, using his private e-mail address "Maf54," asked the teenager:

"Do I make you a little horny?

Teen: "A little."

Maf54: "Cool."

ABC News published the sexual exchanges on its Web site but said they were too explicit to broadcast.

Foley, 52, resigned one day after Tim Mahoney, his Democratic opponent, issued a statement asking for an investigation into the original e-mails, which had been made public on an anonymous blog.

Those e-mails showed that Foley had gotten to know a 16-year-old boy while he served as a page and continued to correspond with the boy after he returned to his Louisiana home.

St. Petersburg Times reporters obtained the original e-mails last fall and interviewed two former pages, but didn't write a story. The 16-year-old boy did not want to be named. The other boy, who was willing to be named, said Foley hadn't done anything inappropriate. It's a Times policy not to make accusations in stories based on unnamed sources.

Foley's resignation prompted an emergency meeting of Florida Republicans at the U.S. Capitol late Friday afternoon.

After the meeting, Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores said the GOP lawmakers agreed that House Republican leadership had done the right thing with Foley "by moving quickly and basically telling him, 'Resign or you're out.' "

After the meeting, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, who counts Foley as one of her closest friends in Congress, was visibly upset, even as she condemned his behavior.

"He's a lost soul," she said. "I hope he gets the help that he needs."

Beyond the scandal, the resignation suddenly puts a safe Republican seat in jeopardy. Democrats need just 15 U.S. House seats nationally to take control of the House.

President Bush won Foley's district with 55 percent of the vote in 2004, but Florida's election laws for replacing a candidate will make keeping the seat a challenge for the GOP.

The state Republican Party is likely to name a replacement for Foley next week, but the state Division of Elections said Friday it's too late to take Foley's name off the ballot. Under Florida law, any vote for Foley will go to the candidate named to replace him by the state GOP.

"A vote for Foley is a vote for the new guy, which is really going to provide another interesting twist to the election," said Division of Elections spokesman Sterling Ivey.

Republican activists said there were many potential candidates and cited state Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, as a strong contender. Negron said he's interested.

"I'm making calls as quickly as I can," Negron said.

He said he didn't mind running for an office when Foley's name will remain on the ballot. "I think voters are very smart and sophisticated, and they care about who their congressman is," Negron said. "I think they'll figure it out."

Foley's district covers all or part of Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee, Highlands, Glades, Hendry and Charlotte counties. A recent poll for the campaign of Democrat Mahoney showed Foley leading by 13 percentage points.

As a member of Congress, Foley was gregarious and charming and befriended the pages, the teen-agers who serve as the Capitol's official messengers.

"I was told by a few interns to be careful about Foley," Will Humble of California, a 2005 page, told the Times last year.

But Humble, who received some personal e-mails from Foley after he left Washington, said he never saw inappropriate behavior from the congressman.

"A congressman e-mailing a 17-year-old after leaving the Hill is not normal, but if it's in a friendly situation it doesn't really matter," Humble told the Times last year. "If it was 'Send me a picture,' I would be a little suspicious."

Indeed, the 16-year-old page whose photo Foley requested forwarded the e-mails to a staffer in the office of Louisiana Rep. Rodney Alexander. The former page described it as "sick sick sick sick sick."

Alexander said last year that he was unaware of the matter until the Times asked him about it, but that his staff did not pursue it because the former page did not want to be involved in a congressional controversy.

"If whoever sent that is a grown man, then I think it's a little inappropriate. It's not something I would do," Alexander told the Times at the time.

On Friday, Alexander told reporters he had passed on the information to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Republican campaign organization.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the GOP campaign organization, said Reynolds learned from Alexander that the parents did not want to pursue the matter. But Forti said the matter did go before the House Page Board. It was unclear what the officials did.

Elected during the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, Foley was an ambitious lawmaker who earned a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Foley, 52, was a champion for clamping down on Internet and child pornography. His latest campaign ad touts his work "protecting missing and exploited children."

He was co-chairman for a National Center for Missing & Exploited Children caucus, a group of House members that deals with child protection issues and introduced legislation aimed at protecting children. He supported increasing penalties for those who transfer obscene materials to minors and sexually exploit children.

His personal life has become entwined in his political career before. Foley is single, and while running for U.S. Senate in 2003 he called a news conference to denounce alternative media reports that he was gay, and declare that he would not respond to questions about his sexuality.

Times staff writers Wes Allison and Steve Bousquet and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press. Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at adair@sptimes.com or 202 463-0575.