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  • « What was Foley's fatal flaw? | Main | A 'thin gay line' to protect Foley? »

    October 04, 2006

    Inquiring minds want to know…

    Posted by: Chris

    With all the attention being paid in the media to the Mark Foley congressional page scandal, I hope some intrepid journalists will revisit his aborted 2004 bid for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate seat from Florida.  So far, most reports are chalking up Foley's decision to abandon that campaign midstream as a decision made due to the fallout from rumors Foley is gay.

    To be sure, Foley struggled in May 2003 to stifle the gay questions, spawned by a column in a South Florida alternative weekly that openly discussed  long-standing rumors about the Palm Beach Republican's sexual orientation. When the story didn't die after a week or so, Foley took the extraordinary step of calling a press conference to denounce the questions as "revolting and unforgiveable."

    Of course, now we know that it was during this exact same time period that Foley was engaged in graphic online chats with teenage males whom he met through the congressional page program. We can only wonder about the interior dialogue of a man who considers questions about whether he's gay as "revolting and unforgiveable," but can somehow justify sexually exploiting teens entrusted by their parents to the care of Congress through the page program. Then of course add to the hypocrisy Foley's role leading the House Caucus on Missing & Exploited Children.

    At the time, I wrote about Foley's "crazy closet" and how his angry denunciation of questions about whether he's gay cast aspersion on gay people generally. I had no idea just how much he would slime us three years later. But I can't help but wonder whether others knew back then about the slimy online chats, and whether they might have played a role — perhaps a critical role — in Foley's decision four months later to abandon his Senate campaign.

    When Foley announced his withdrawal from that race in September 2003, he claimed his reason was to care for his ailing father. Almost no one was buying that explanation, and of course Foley found time away from his father's bedside to run for re-election to his House seat during the same campaign season.

    A number of factors suggest that not only was the "ailing father" explanation a lie, but the gay question wasn't the primary reason either. In our story at the Washington Blade, Lou Chibbaro reported that despite the gay flap months earlier, Foley "continued to break all records in the fund-raising department." Respected political analyst Hastings Wyman, longtime editor and publisher of the Southern Political Report, told the Blade then, "It was amazing to me that this [gay issue] never seemed to hurt him in any way." Wyman, who is gay himself and had discussed the issue with political insiders in Florida, said Foley was still well-positioned to win the nomination because he was the only moderate in a four-candidate field.

    Foley's chief of staff at the time, Kirk Fordham — who resigned today from Congressman Tom Reynolds' staff — added that some 35 Republicans from the Florida legislature had endorsed Foley's Senate bid and the White House had reiterated its support for Foley if he won the nomination. "Voters by and large were not focused on his private life," Fordham said then. "People either discarded the [gay] rumors or decided the issue was not a problem for them." The Palm Beach Post reported that Foley's withdrawal stunned the state's political establishment because, all these months after the gay story fell out of the headlines, Foley continued to lead in the polls.

    So what was Mark Foley's real reason for quitting the Senate race, while atop the polls and awash in cash? The worst of the online chats that have come to light so far were from that year: 2003. Did someone threaten Foley to pass them on to the media then? Was a story actually in the works? We're already learning that several Florida media outlets knew about at least some of the inappropriate exchanges.

    Why do the most explicit chats that have come to light all seem to date back to 2003? If this was a pattern of (mis)conduct for Foley, why didn't it continue? If the '03 chats surfaced at some level and caused him to abandon his Senate run, that would explain the subsequent shift in his behavior.

    There's clearly plenty more here worth digging into…



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