The Open And Closeted Lives of a Gay Congressman

By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Mark Foley had secrets.

First, there was whispering about the Republican congressman's sexual orientation, beginning in 1994 during his first House campaign. He was almost outed two years later when he voted against gay marriage. In 2003, Foley dropped a Senate bid after the rumor mill again started churning. He dismissed the speculation as "revolting and unforgivable."

Although publicly unacknowledged, Foley's homosexuality gradually became known in Washington and Florida political circles. Over time, it became a defining force in his career. Foley was restlessly ambitious, but as a Republican from a state with lots of social conservatives, his prospects for higher office were dim.

He hit the gay glass ceiling in Congress, too. Foley served nearly 12 years in Congress and was regarded as an energetic and capable lawmaker. But he barely registered on the senior GOP leadership's radar screen. "I've never had a conversation with him," said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. "Other than his vote on a tariff matter at one time or another, I think."

But as Foley attempted to navigate the tricky path of being a gay Republican, there was yet another, darker secret that he proved unable to handle: He was making sexual advances toward teenagers. For all his caution about his sexual orientation, it wasn't that but his pursuit of underage former congressional pages that wrecked his career.

Hastert and other senior GOP leaders are now battling fierce criticism that they failed to act forcefully upon learning of inappropriate e-mails between Foley and a 16-year-old boy. The speaker's office asked a Republican colleague to warn Foley to back off, but GOP leaders did not officially alert the full page board, which included one Democrat, or the bipartisan ethics committee.

Foley's fate was sealed when transcripts surfaced late last week of lurid instant-message exchanges between the congressman and other former pages. To some people who have known Foley for years, the sordid details were both shocking and somewhat ironic, given his painstaking efforts to shield his private life.

Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, said he refused to believe early reports about the page exchanges, which he dubbed "the evil e-mails." His wife was so stunned that she was convinced someone had hacked into Foley's instant-message account. "That's how far off it was from the Mark Foley we knew," he said.

Like most local officials, Dinerstein had known about Foley's sexual orientation for years. He recently ran into the congressman and his longtime companion, a Palm Beach doctor, along with Foley's sister and her husband, while dining at a local restaurant. "He didn't introduce him as his companion," said Dinerstein. "But I knew who he was from the whisper mill."

The 52-year-old congressman has checked himself into an undisclosed treatment facility for alcoholism and "other behavioral problems." He said in a statement, "I deeply regret and accept full responsibility for the harm I have caused."

Foley's attorney, David Roth, confirmed at a Florida news conference on Tuesday night that his client was gay. "Mark Foley wants you to know that he is a gay man," Roth told reporters.

The lawyer also said Foley had been molested by a clergy member as a teenager, although he said the congressman wasn't making excuses for his behavior. Foley is a Catholic and attended Catholic schools, but Roth refused to state the clergy member's affiliation. Foley entered the treatment center Sunday night and will remain there at least 30 days, Roth said.

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