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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Foley: From fame to shame


Mark Foley was about to go on stage to accept the love and applause of some of the biggest names in the Recording Academy.

Above the dais, a large screen pictured his smiling face and bore his name.



Mark Foley was about to go on stage to accept the love and applause of some of the biggest names in the Recording Academy.

Above the dais, a large screen pictured his smiling face and bore his name.

"Wow, look at that," Foley marveled at the September event in Washington. "Look at my name on the big screen, in big bold letters."

Four weeks later, his name, the one he worked so hard to build during his 12-year congressional career, is on screens and headlines across the country, in big bold letters.

This time, however, he is not honored. He is shamed.

The scandal is something he — of all people — never wanted. Every year, on the day of the State of the Union address, Foley, who resigned Friday after sexually explicit instant messages he sent to a former congressional page became public, camped out in the House hours before the speech just to stake his claim on a valuable aisle seat.

The purpose was not to shake the president’s hand, he once admitted. It was so his constituents watching from home would see him shaking the president’s hand.

"They always call me and say they saw me with the president on TV," he said. "They think I must be some important guy."

Foley, 52, never turned down TV. Once on a bike ride in Maryland, 14 miles away from his home near the Capitol, he received a call from his then-communications director, Jason Kello.

Fox News had called, Kello informed the congressman. The network wanted him to appear as an expert commentator in connection with his role as co-chair of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children’s caucus.

"I’ll be there," Kello recalled his boss saying.

He quickly pedaled back to the Hill from rural Maryland.

"It was for a good cause," Foley said, at the time. "It was for missing and exploited children. If this was an interview on Kofi Annan, I would have said, ‘Tell Kofi I said hello."

Foley had watched as colleague after colleague fell prey to scandal. There was Tom DeLay. Duke Cunningham. William Jefferson.

"It’s all greed," he said in an interview, "These guys got greedy."

Greed was not Foley’s demon. Sexual misconduct was.

His colleagues in the House often describe him as well liked, bright, and particularly funny.

In his 12-years in Congress, he enjoyed brushes with celebrity. The photos in his congressional office are proof. There is one of Foley and Jay Leno. Right beside it is Foley and Clint Eastwood. At the Recording Academy event where he was honored, he had his picture taken with Kelly Clarkson, the "American Idol" champion, and Randy Jackson, the "American Idol" judge.

"Isn’t this fun?" he cooed, as he posed for one of the pictures.

He often speaks of his close relationship with President Bush _ a man Foley said often needled him. He also takes pride in the nickname, Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush gave him: "Hurricane Foley," after he dealt with two storms, Frances and Jeanne, that swept through his district in 2004.

Colleagues say Foley, silver-haired and athletic, was also known for being one of the better-dressed lawmakers, often wearing French-cuffed shirts with cufflinks, stylish well-fitted suits.

Recently, he earned the title of "best dressed" in the House from Washingtonian Magazine.

But mostly, colleagues say, he was admired for his humble attitude and honesty.

"The fact is he was a strong congressman," said former Rep. Scott McInnis, who served on the powerful Ways and Means committee with Foley. "Mark was never behind. He was quick. He understood the issues."

He was "a compassionate person," McInnis said, especially on social issues.

"This is a guy who could have been the chairman of Ways and Means," he added.

McInnis, a Republican from Colorado, said Foley always had one big demon _ one he never wanted to address, at least publicly. That he is gay. Though he wasn’t publicly "out," political insiders, staffers and many voters, in Foley’s south Florida district knew of his sexual orientation.

"I think people here were aware of that, but it didn’t impact the relationship he had with anyone," McInnis said. ". . . It didn’t serve as a roadblock to his service in the Congress."

McInnis, who said he knows Foley "very well," said he never had any idea about Foley’s life behind closed doors or about his online exchanges with any of the congressional pages.

But he never would have guessed Foley, who railed against sexual predators and co-sponsored legislation to stiffen the penalties for those accused of that crime, would be a predator himself.

"I was absolutely shocked when I found out," he said. "It’s so out of character for Mark."

Other former Foley colleagues are not as sympathetic.

"This type of behavior is what I try to protect my grandchildren from," said Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., after Foley’s Friday resignation "It’s unacceptable. Members of Congress are responsible for protecting the most vulnerable among us _ our children."

Colleagues say Foley’s work on legislating against child sex crimes led them to believe he was an honorable lawmaker.

"Those who break such a sacred trust and prey on our children _ no matter who they are, where they’re from or where they commit their crime _ should have to make their whereabouts known or be subject to additional jail time and other penalties," Foley said earlier this year after the House passed the largest overhaul of sex offenders laws in 10 years.

And publicly, at least, Foley pretended he had nothing to hide.

In an interview amid the earlier congressional scandals, Foley was asked how he stayed out of the spotlight, away from the turmoil.

"You step aside and watch the train wreck," he answered.

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