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Politics

Foley's foe steps into limelight

The Democrat takes center stage in the race for a House seat held by Republicans since the 1980s.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published October 1, 2006


WEST PALM BEACH - Palm Beach Gardens Democrat Tim Mahoney can brag that he was the first to call for an investigation of his competitor, Rep. Mark Foley.

He called for an inquiry on Thursday, a day before sexually explicit exchanges between Foley and a former congressional page came to light.

While that chapter may prove to be the high point of Mahoney's political campaign, the call was typical Mahoney.

Though a newcomer to politics and the Democratic Party, the 50-year-old businessman has been waging an aggressive campaign to stamp out corruption and cronyism in Washington.

In his commercials, Mahoney pledges to "end corruption in Congress."

He most recently accused Foley of claiming two homestead exemptions, one in Washington and in Florida. (Foley's campaign called the double exemption a clerical fluke.)

It's just that fewer people were listening back then.

Now, his race has completely changed, but his message hasn't. On Saturday, he got his first big chance to stump for Congress - opponentless - and in front of his largest media audience to date. Mahoney cast the Foley revelations as another symptom of a greater pattern of corruption.

"It's clear from all of the reports coming in from across the country that the Republican leadership team has been well aware of this problem with the pages for well over a year," Mahoney said, sandwiched between Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at a press conference at a private West Palm Beach airport. (His campaign insisted the event had been in the works for weeks, although notice was released late Friday night.)

"It looks to me that it was more important to hang on to a seat and hold on to power, than to take care of our children," Mahoney said.

Despite all the attention and a recent windfall of pledges of financial support to a campaign that had often been self-financed, Mahoney said he was ready to move on from the Foley scandal.

He insisted he could have beaten Foley without the misconduct allegations, although a recent poll showed him 13 percentage points behind in the race for a seat held by Republicans since the 1980s.

"People need to understand that I'm the same guy that's been out there in the last 12 months," said Mahoney. "In the next week or 10 days, or however it takes the Republicans to do what they want to do, I'm just going to be running my campaign. The issues haven't changed."

Mahoney touts himself as a moderate, probusiness Democrat, who changed parties in the summer of 2005.

He said he was a Reagan Republican who grew disgusted with party politics during the rise of the Newt Gingrich era.

He runs vFinance Inc., a financial services company that publicly traded for 8 cents a share recently. Mahoney is co-founder and chairman of the asset and wealth management company.

He's most comfortable when he's talking about business and economics, like pensions, prescription drugs and Social Security, but he also likes to talk about the war in Iraq, offering ideas for resolution, including getting rid of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Family values is a concern for Mahoney, a Methodist who has been married for 21 years and has a 20-year-old daughter.

He's about to start running a timely new commercial with former Sen. Bob Graham, who tells voters that his "friend" Tim Mahoney is a man of "faith, family and personal responsibility."

"Tim Mahoney will help end the fraud, waste and corruption in Washington," Graham says in the commercial, in which a picture of Mahoney appears next to a church. The commercial was taped last week, but Mahoney staffers say the script for the commercial had been written weeks before.

[Last modified October 1, 2006, 06:00:57]


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