Foley shadow hangs over debate in a suddenly competitive race

Published October 27, 2006

WEST PALM BEACH - Disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley isn't running for Congress anymore, but he was still part of a debate Thursday night between the candidates seeking his seat.

The debate, taped at a television studio and moderated by anchor Curt Fonger, opened with a montage of photographs of Foley and a voice detailing the scandal that led to his resignation. It closed with, "A vote for Foley, however, will be credited to the new Republican candidate, Joe Negron."

It highlighted a difficult task for Negron, who entered the race three weeks ago. He has to convince voters that a vote for Foley - whose name remains on the Nov. 7 ballot - is a vote for him.

Negron faced off for the first time against Democrat Tim Mahoney and unaffiliated Emmie Ross, debating the war in Iraq, health care, homeowners insurance - and Foley, who resigned last month after disclosure of lurid computer messages he sent to male teenage pages.

"Obviously, everyone in this district is very angered and betrayed by the conduct of Mark Foley," Negron said, adding that voters now needed to "focus on who is going to take his place."

Mahoney tried to change the topic, noting that the race is "not about Mark Foley anymore."

Eventually, the topic did shift.

The candidates agreed a new strategy is needed in the Iraq war and that troops cannot be brought home immediately. Mahoney said he supports bringing in an international coalition of troops and eventually phasing out U.S. forces.

"I'm going to get tough with this president," Mahoney said.

Negron said Iraq must have a stable government before troops are brought home.

Asked when she thought troops should come home, Ross, a licensed insurance agent, simply replied, "Six months."

Mahoney attacked Negron for not doing enough to lower homeowners insurance rates, pointing out that the state representative from Stuart voted for a bill this year that allows insurance companies to raise rates.

Negron talks about insurance "like he's already fixed it," Mahoney said. "I haven't seen such a good job done since Michael Brown ran FEMA."

Negron countered that the bill helped Floridians with more than $700-million to offset Citizens Property Insurance losses.

The race for the 16th District seat received little attention before Foley's resignation because he was seen as a shoo-in. Since then, both parties have poured money into the race.