Foley resigns from Congress amid questions about e-mails to former male page

Friday, September 29th 2006, 3:38 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., resigned from Congress on Friday, effective immediately, in the wake of questions about e-mails he wrote a former teenage male page.

``I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent,'' he said in a statement issued by his office.

The two-sentence statement did not refer to the e-mails and gave no reason for Foley's decision to abruptly abandon a flourishing career in Congress.

Foley, 52, had been a shoo-in for a new term until the e-mail correspondence surfaced in recent days.

His resignation comes less than six weeks before the elections and further complicates the political landscape for Republicans, who are fighting to retain control of Congress. Democrats need to win a net of 15 Republican seats to regain the power they lost in 1994.

Florida Republicans planned to meet as soon as Monday to name a replacement in Foley's district, which President Bush won with 55 percent in 2004 and now is in play for November.

Campaign aides had previously acknowledged that the Republican congressman e-mailed the former Capitol page five times, but had said there was nothing inappropriate about the exchange. The page was 16 at the time of the e-mail correspondence.

Foley, who represents an area around Palm Beach County, e-mailed the page in August 2005. The page had worked for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., and Foley asked him how he was doing after Hurricane Katrina and what he wanted for his birthday. The congressman also asked the boy to send a photo of himself, according to excerpts of the e-mails that were originally released by ABC News.

Foley's aides initially blamed Democratic rival Tim Mahoney and Democrats with attempting to smear the congressman before the election.

The e-mails were posted Friday on Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's Web site after ABC News reported their existence. The group asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate the exchange Foley had with the boy, who served as a page for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La.

``The House of Representatives has an obligation to protect the teenagers who come to Congress to learn about the legislative process,'' the group wrote, adding that the committee, ``must investigate any allegation that a page has been subjected to sexual advances by members of the House.''

In 2003, Foley faced questions about his sexual orientation as he prepared to run for Sen. Bob Graham's seat. At a news conference in May of that year, he said he would not comment on rumors he was gay. He later decided not to seek the Senate seat to care for his parents.

According to the CREW posting, the boy e-mailed a colleague in Alexander's office about Foley's e-mails, saying, ``This freaked me out.'' On the request for a photo, the boy repeated the word ``sick'' 13 times.

He said Foley asked for his e-mail when the boy gave him a thank you card. The boy also said Foley wrote that he e-mailed another page.

``he's such a nice guy,'' Foley wrote about the other boy. ``acts much older than his age...and hes in really great shape...i am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym...whats school like for you this year?''

In other e-mails, Foley wrote, ``I am back in Florida now...its nice here...been raining sounds like you will have some fun over the next few old are you now?'' and ``how are you weathering the hurricane...are you safe...send me an email pic of you as well.''

What the boy wrote to Foley, who is single, wasn't available. The e-mails were sent from Foley's personal account, which Foley spokesman Jason Kello says he uses to communicate with many people, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Efforts to reach the boy were unsuccessful, but he told the St. Petersburg Times last November, ``I thought it was very inappropriate. After the one about the picture, I decided to stop e-mailing him back.'' The Times didn't publish the comments until Friday.

Foley was a member of the Republican leadership, serving as a deputy whip. He also was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus.

Florida Republican Party Chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan said executives from each of the counties in Foley's district will meet to choose a replacement on the ballot. Among the possibilities was state Rep. Joe Negron, who was a candidate for attorney general before dropping out of the race to avoid a primary with former Rep. Bill McCollum.

``It would be very time sensitive so the nominee would have the opportunity to get around the district and campaign in a very short amount of time,'' Jordan said.

On Foley, Jordan said, ``Congressman Foley served as my congressman. He's given a great deal of time and effort and extreme good hard work to the state of Florida. I just so appreciate all the things he's done over the years.''

The campaign for Mahoney, who trails Foley in the polls, said it didn't release the e-mails and wouldn't make them part of the campaign. In a statement released by Mahoney spokesman Jessica Santillo, the campaign referred to the boy as an ``alleged victim.''

``The seriousness of these allegations goes far beyond the tit for tat of a political campaign,'' Santillo said. ``This is a matter for the appropriate authorities to investigate. I believe Mr. Foley deserves the benefit of the doubt until these allegations are proven true or false.''

Kello disputed the claim that the e-mails weren't distributed by the Mahoney campaign.

``They've been shopping this around to reporters for weeks now. They want a headline and that's it. It's a political smear campaign of the worst kind,'' Kello said.

In 1983, the House censured two lawmakers _ Daniel Crane of Illinois and Gerry Studds of Massachusetts _ for having improper relationships with pages.

The page program is for high school students who study at a congressional school while also carrying out tasks for lawmakers.