FORMER PAGES SPEAK
Some Say They Felt Uneasy About Representative's Attention
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
In 1995, male House pages were warned to steer clear of a freshman Republican from Florida, who was already learning the names of the teenagers, dashing off notes, letters and e-mails to them, and asking them to join him for ice cream, according to a former page.
Mark Beck-Heyman, now a graduate student in clinical psychology at George Washington University, and more than a dozen other former House pages said in interviews and via e-mail that Rep. Mark Foley was known to be extraordinarily friendly in a way that made some of them uncomfortable.
Beck-Heyman, who was a Republican page and is now a Democrat, said the attention was "weird," and he provided a handwritten letter that Foley sent him after the page left Washington to return home to California. The note suggested that they get together during the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996.
The e-mail exchanges that have become public in recent days are between Foley and male former pages. None of those interviewed said they had received a sexual or suggestive overture from him during their time on Capitol Hill. Yet many of them said they were uneasy about Foley's actions and felt awkward complaining to anyone about them.
"Mark Foley knew that he could get away with this type of behavior with male pages because he was a congressman," said Beck-Heyman, who later worked in the Clinton White House and on Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign. "But many people on Capitol Hill," including many Republican staffers, "have known for over 11 years about what was going on and chose to do nothing," he said.
The six-term lawmaker resigned Friday after ABC News questioned him about sexually explicit electronic messages he had sent to a former page.
Yesterday, his attorney said Foley has never had sexual contact with a minor.
Also yesterday, ABC reported that Foley had a sexual conversation via instant message with a former page during a House vote in 2003.
Foley was popular with many of the pages. The teenagers come from all over the nation to serve at the Capitol, taking school classes and living in dormitories.
Their schedules are tightly controlled. They travel with adult chaperones and their computers are monitored. They attend social functions and sometimes spend time alone with House members. So when they do receive extra one-on-one attention, it is a big deal.
The pages did, however, receive a lot of attention from Foley. He attended one of their parties in a tuxedo. He donated to the fundraiser that helps pay for their prom and spoke admiringly about them in floor speeches. He learned their names and asked them about themselves. For many, it was welcome attention.
"He was consistently kind," said Bryce Chitwood, president of the 2002 page class. "He was just a very friendly man and was always willing to befriend a page. It was something we appreciated. You find yourself very low on the totem pole of the congressional power scale. For a congressman to act like he was interested in a person and cared about us was something pretty special and pretty important."
Foley spoke about his attachment to the program occasionally as part of the farewell address lawmakers delivered to House pages each summer. In 2002, he discussed how he was tempted "to put some money" in a card he gave to one page who had sent him a graduation notice.
"Then I realized he would tell all of you, and then I would get hundreds of graduation announcements," Foley said, according to the Congressional Record. "So I chose not to."
Another page had won a lunch with the congressman that year at the annual page auction. When he asked to go to Morton's steakhouse, Foley said on the House floor that the two of them "proceeded to cruise down in my BMW to Morton's. And all of this story is meant to make you all feel jealous that you were not the high bidders."
In a separate floor speech two years later, Foley praised the teenagers for their maturity. "Now, I know you have one more year of high school to conclude and that probably is some degree of relief or maybe, to those you feel like you are probably well equipped to enter your first year of college," he said. "Some of you, I think, in conversing with you, some are actually mature enough to enter college right away."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who served as a Senate page between 1963 and 1967, said Foley's attempts to socialize with pages went beyond the ordinary. Davis and other lawmakers may have taken their own pages to lunch at the Members' Dining Room at the end of the year, Davis said, but anything else was considered inappropriate.
As a page, Davis recalled, "if a member of Congress, a House member or a senator, took the time to talk to you, that was a big deal."
Anna Fry, a former House page who said she had never heard about Foley's advances, said some of her classmates may have been tempted to correspond with the congressman after they left because they were eager to land jobs on Capitol Hill.
"After we graduated, everyone wanted to come back. Everyone was looking for an opportunity to stay in Washington," Fry said. "I can see how a 16-year-old would be vulnerable to that."
Matt Schmitz, a former page whose younger brother also was a page, said: "I certainly warned my little brother, who was a page last year. A few of the members are a little friendlier to the pages."
Beck-Heyman, who contacted The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, joined the page program in the summer of 1995. He said a departing page told him to be "very careful" of Foley. Within weeks, Beck-Heyman said, Foley had learned his name and asked at least once to take him to get ice cream. He declined. After one all-night work session, Beck-Heyman's girlfriend -- another page -- offered to bring him breakfast. Foley asked if she was his girlfriend. "It was an odd conversation," Beck-Heyman said.
After he completed the page program, Beck-Heyman wrote thank-you notes to 10 House members. He received a reply from Foley almost immediately, suggesting that the two meet up during the Republican convention in San Diego.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.