- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

Republican Rep. Mark Foley resigned yesterday after the exposure of several sexually suggestive messages he sent to underage boys.

Mr. Foley, a Florida Republican and chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus, led efforts to overhaul sex-offender laws, apologized in a brief statement that did not mention the electronic correspondence with the former congressional pages.

“I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent,” said Mr. Foley, 52, an unmarried real estate broker from Palm Beach.

The incident, the latest in a long history of sexual scandals that have plagued both parties, threatens the Republican campaign to retain control of the House of Representatives in the Nov. 7 elections.

ABC News first reported yesterday that Mr. Foley had engaged in several sexually explicit Internet conversations with current and former teenage male pages.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said Mr. Foley, a 12-year member of the House who served as deputy majority whip, did the right thing by resigning. Mr. Hastert, speaking of the scandal, said, “None of us are very happy about it.”

Late last night, the House voted 409-0 to let the House ethics panel decide whether to investigate the matter. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, had officially demanded an investigation, but the House voted to defer the decision to the panel.

Mr. Foley’s resignation, which stunned Capitol Hill, makes it more difficult for Republicans to keep the 16th District in Florida, long a reliable Republican district that voted 54 percent for President Bush in 2004. Mr. Foley won his last election with 68 percent.

“It obviously took a seat that was not competitive and made it competitive,” said Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Republican lawyers are examining Florida election law to determine whether a new Republican candidate could be added to the November ballot. If not, Republicans would be required to mount a write-in campaign for a replacement, which is difficult.

Even before yesterday’s developments, House Republicans had speculated the party would lose seats, but hoped to lose fewer than 15, which would enable them to maintain control of the House. About 30 seats are considered in play.

A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee memo yesterday afternoon argued that Mr. Foley’s name “cannot be removed from the general election ballot,” and promoted the candidacy of Tom Mahoney, a businessman described as a moderate Democrat who has raised more than $1 million for his campaign. However, the Florida Republican Party chairwoman said executives from each of the counties in the district will choose a replacement. State Rep. Joe Negron is said to be a leading contender.

Mr. Collegio said Republicans will field a strong candidate and called Mr. Mahoney a “B-list” candidate.

DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said the Florida district was “always a very competitive race” and is now leaning more toward the Democrats. “This is a pretty decent district for Democrats,” she said.

Mr. Foley became the fourth Republican congressman to resign so far this year amidst scandal. Most recently, former Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio resigned after admitting to federal bribery charges. Tom DeLay of Texas, the former majority leader, resigned in the spring over ties to casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff after he was accused of campaign finance irregularities. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California resigned and was convicted and imprisoned for bribery.

In its reporting, ABC News cited e-mail exchanges between Mr. Foley and a 16-year-old former congressional page in which the congressman asks the boy how old he is and requests a photograph. The boy seemed concerned about the exchange and alerted congressional staffers. ABC questioned Mr. Foley yesterday about earlier sexually explicit Internet messages with current and former congressional pages under the age of 18. Copies of the computer messages were given to ABC News by male former pages.

Mr. Hastert said he directed Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican and head of the Page Board, to look into the matter. “We want to make sure that all our pages are safe and the page system is safe,” Mr. Hastert said.

Steve Tomaszdwski, spokesman for Mr. Shimkus, said the Page Board of three House members would consult with lawyers to determine what authority, if any, the board has to investigate.

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