Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) faced growing pressure Monday to resign from office less than a week after pleading guilty to buying cocaine from an undercover D.C. police officer.
Radel, who is currently in a rehabilitation center in south Florida, has said he plans to continue serving after dealing with his self-acknowledged addictions, but by Monday night a trio of key Florida Republicans issued statements calling for his resignation.
“The people of Florida’s 19th Congressional District need a congressman who is 100 percent focused on the needs of Southwest Florida,” said Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. “Therefore, Congressman Radel should step down and focus his attention on rehabilitation and his family.”
The local county GOP chairmen from Radel’s district that runs from Fort Meyers down to Naples echoed Curry’s call with similar statements.
This placed the local Republican leaders at odds on Radel’s criminal transgression with GOP leaders in Washington. So far, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have not called for Radel’s resignation and left the impression he would have the chance to continue to serve and then fight for his seat in what could be a crowded Republican primary in the district next year.
Radel, 37, is a first-term lawmaker without deep political roots in the district. A former TV newsman and local businessman, Radel has never held office before and emerged through a crowded primary field in 2012 to claim a nomination that all but assured his general election victory given the strong Republican tilt of the district.
"Congressman Radel's top priority right now is to complete his rehabilitation and then return to work as soon as possible,” Dave Natonski, Radel’s chief of staff, said in a statement Monday night.
The Miami Herald reported that up to a handful of local Republicans are already looking at running in the primary.
A once rising star, Radel led what amounted to a double life, winning attention from leaders who liked his social media presence and strong command of Spanish, as an example of the future of the Republican Party. But he also was a cocaine user, someone who used the drug on a number of occasions, according to court documents, which revealed that police became aware of this in a separate investigation and set up a sting.
On Oct. 29 about 10 p.m. – about four hours after that Tuesday night’s votes wrapped up in the House – Radel and a friend met an undercover officer at Circa, a restaurant in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. He purchased 3.5 grams of cocaine and by the time he got to his car, the officer flashed his badge and he was under arrest.