Republican Congressman Robert E. Bauman acknowledged today that he has suffered from "homosexual tendencies" and alcoholism and said that his family would have left him had he not sought spiritual and medical counseling last winter for what he called his "twin compulsions."
In an emotional, hometown press conference that marked his first public appearance since he was charged in the District of Columbia five days ago with soliciting sex from a teen-aged boy, Bauman declared that he would not back away from his reelection race or from the conservative moral standards he has championed throughout his political career.
"I happen to believe that not all matters are gray," said the three-term representative from Maryland's Eastern Shore. "There are things that are right and wrong. I have done wrong, but those standards have to be upheld. I never made any statements that I don't stand by now."
The 43-year-old congressman, who has fashioned a national reputation through his sharp-witted needling of liberal adversaries, said he has been humbled by his recent experiences.
"I understand human weakness now better than ever," said Bauman in a 30-minute press conference here at the Tidewater Inn. He appeared contrite and subdued while discussing his troubles today, a pale shadow of the confident figure who so frequently commanded the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington. His wife, Carol, and priest, the Rev. John Harvey, sat beside him, their heads frequently bowed.
Bauman said he would not "deny or confirm the wholesale, numerous reports" that he had cruised the gay bars of Washington for months before he was ushered into court last week. At the early morning court session, Bauman entered a not-guilty plea and was assigned to a rehabilitation program for first-offenders.
"I do not consider myself to be a homosexual," Bauman said today. "I will not discuss the clinical details. I don't owe it to anyone but my God, and I have confessed to Him and am going forward.
"I have changed," said Bauman. "I am not going back to this grave problem in my life. I have not had a drink since May 1. Ironically, after four months of sobriety, I was confronted with my past conduct."
Bauman said prosecutors have "assured me in writing" that there are no other charges pending against him. He said that there had been "no plea bargaining" leading up to his plea of not guilty in D.C. Superior Court on a charge of solicitation, but noted that the plea was "suggested to me first" by the prosecutors.
He said "my drinking is under control." Asked how it is that none of his colleagues in Congress or close friends and employes knew about his alcoholism, Bauman said "my drinking was done away from my work, in the evenings, at great length and great quantity."
In answer to another question, he said "I did" show up on the floor of the House with hangovers.
Bauman said that at one point he considered resigning from the House, but decided against it at the urging of his wife and of leading supporters in the 13 rural counties of the First Congressional District, many of whom met with him at his home Tuesday night. "I am in this race [for reelection] to stay," said Bauman. "And I hope that the voters will reelect me."
The recent revelations, Bauman acknowledged, "no doubt will damage" his chances for reelection to a fourth term. "I don't know how my colleagues will react," he said, "but the most important thing to me is my sobriety and my return to my wife and family."
His explanation today seemed to do little to retard his eroding political support. Paul Weyrich and Edward Rowe, the leaders of conservative organizations that had called for Bauman's resignation earlier this week, reiterated their position today. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee announced that it would not help fund Bauman's campaign this fall and a poll by a Baltimore television station showed that the congressman, once considered a sure bet for reelection, now is running behind his Democratic opponent, state legislator Roy Dyson.
The poll of 200 registered voters commissioned by Baltimore station WJZ and Washington's WDVM showed Bauman trailing Dyson by 51 to 29 percent, with 21 percent undecided. Pollsters from the Decision Research firm of Lexington, Mass., said they found in telephone interviews that 90 percent of voters had heard of the charges against Bauman and more than 40 percent of those who said they were voting for Dyson volunteered the scandal as their reason.
Even the supporters who crowded into the conference room to hear Bauman's statement -- and who frequently burst into applause while he was talking -- seemed to have mixed feelings when it was all over. "Yes, but it says in the Bible that it's wrong," said one man as he left the room.
"It is incumbent upon a congressman to be aware that he is looked upon as role model," said Rowe, a leader of the Religious Roundtable. "The boy he approached was somebody's son. It would be best if he were to drop out [of the race] and work on getting his life together."
Some of those who have supported Bauman through the last turbulent week praised his statement today as courageous. "He's much better off having come out with the whole story," said Allen Levey, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. "It has to be a credit to him with voters who had doubts."
"Generally speaking, I abhor homosexuality," said Joseph Kesner, who helped sponsor a bull roast for Bauman last summer. "What I'm looking at here is a man who said he has a problem and has it under control.
"If he was working with children where he was forming little minds, I might take a different view," said Kesner. "But Bob Bauman, whether he's a homosexual or whether he's got four legs, expresses my views in Washington."
Weyrich said that 10 conservative groups, including several representing gun control and antiabortion interests, were expected to endorse Bauman Thursday and pledge money to his campaign.