Congressman Mark Foley Indecent Proposals
Those warnings won't be whispered anymore. On September 29, Foley, 52, a single, six-term Republican from Fort Pierce, abruptly resigned from the House of Representatives when ABC News confronted him with lewd e-mails he allegedly sent teenage pages, all males, beginning in 2003. The revelation was all the more shocking given that Foley was perhaps best known on Capitol Hill for his crusade for harsher punishment of sexual predators who target children. Just three months ago, Foley, cochair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, beamed at a Rose Garden ceremony as President George W. Bush signed a law mandating a national sex offender registry. As Foley once said of similar legislation, "I hope today's bill is a pedophile's worst nightmare."
Today the nightmare is his. His attorney David Roth announced Oct. 3 that Foley is gay, an alcoholic and the teenage victim of molestation by a member of the clergy. The ex-congressman also checked into an undisclosed rehab facility. Still, Roth insisted, Foley is not a pedophile and "has never had sexual relations with a minor."
But what constitutes pedophilia in an era of cybersex immediately became part of the debate. So far at least five former pages have made public their e-mail exchanges with Foley. Using the screen name Maf54 (a combination of Foley's initials and the year of his birth), he asks the young men in the online conversations what they are wearing and whether they are aroused. In one exchange he invites a page to his apartment, and in another, dated 2003, he appears to postpone casting a vote on the House floor to carry on a sexually charged conversation:
Maf54: ok .. i better go vote ... did you know you would have this effect on me
Teen: ya go vote ... I don't want to keep you from doing our job.
The repercussions of Foley's e-mail habits have gone beyond the ex-congressman's office. Some Republican leaders who knew Foley was sending inappropriate e-mails have been chastised by Democrats and conservatives for failing to stop him. Several GOP congressmen were contacted as early as this summer by the parents of a Louisiana page complaining of improper (although not overtly sexual) e-mails from Foley. Party leaders ordered the congressman to cease contact with the boy, but did not investigate further.
Known for his snazzy suits and ease with constituents, Foley, who was born in Massachusetts but moved with his family to Florida when he was 3 to ease his asthma, was popular on the Hill. He could light up a room with dead-on impressions of Bill Clinton ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman") and Arnold Schwarzenegger. "This is a guy who would wake up every morning to be with people," says Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican party of Palm Beach County, Fla. "He was extraordinarily entertaining." According to Dinerstein, Foley's homosexuality was "an open secret" in his district, where he attended social functions with his partner but lived alone in a shoreline condo. Congressman Barney Frank, openly gay and a Democrat, believes that those who hide their sexuality may contribute to their downfall: "How do you conceal a very important part of yourself and then live your life? That just curdles you."
Foley's lawyer says his client will remain in rehab for at least 30 days—just in time for the Nov. 7 elections that may reflect the impact of his actions. And while he wrestles with his personal demons, the FBI will conduct a criminal investigation into his contacts with minors. "I can't count the number of times he pushed Congress to hunt down the monsters that victimize our children," says Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. "It's a shame Congressman Foley's message didn't get through to one of the people who really needed it."
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