Foley scandal boosts Democrat

Mahoney no more a long shot for House after disgraced Fla. Republican resigns

October 01, 2006|By William E. Gibson and Josh Hafenbrack | William E. Gibson and Josh Hafenbrack,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's sudden resignation from Congress sparked a political furor yesterday when Democrats accused House Republicans of failing to respond to initial reports of his sexually suggestive e-mails to a congressional page.

The House voted late Friday to turn the matter over to the Ethics Committee before Congress adjourned for the fall election campaign season, hours after House leaders acknowledged that they had known about the e-mails for months.

In Washington and Palm Beach County, Democrats tried to broaden the sex scandal by condemning an alleged cover-up by the House majority.

"It's made more outrageous by the fact that Republican leaders knew about it a year ago and kept it a secret to protect their political lives instead of protecting the lives of pages," U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said at a news conference at Palm Beach International Airport.

Wasserman Schultz and former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry seized on Foley's resignation and apology while campaigning for Tim Mahoney, the Democrat running for Foley's former seat.

"I think every parent in America was disgusted and disturbed by [the Foley story]," said Kerry, of Massachusetts, who had planned the fundraising trip before Foley's resignation Friday.

Foley's exit six weeks before the November 7 elections has turned the campaign for his seat into one of the most closely watched congressional races in the nation.

Before the resignation, election forecasters had considered Florida's 16th District relatively safe for Republicans despite Mahoney's spirited campaign. Foley, a popular and well-funded incumbent, seemed almost invincible.

Suddenly Democrats have the advantage in that race, putting the 16th District in the middle of a nationwide struggle for control of the House.

South Florida Republicans scrambled to contain the damage but acknowledged that the once-safe seat is vulnerable.

"It's going to be very much of an uphill battle," said Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty. "I think a big question is going to be, `Who in Washington knew this was going on, and what did they do about it?' I'm certainly hoping anybody that knew about this turned this over to the proper authorities at the right time.

"If it was common knowledge, why was it allowed to go on?"

Republican leaders in District 16, which includes parts of eight counties, plan to meet this week to pick a new candidate. State Rep. Joe Negron appears to be the leading candidate.

Negron says he has $1 million in cash on hand from his abandoned run for attorney general. That money can't be transferred into a federal account, but Negron said he would lean on many of the same supporters and had already received numerous calls from would-be donors.

William E. Gibson and Josh Hafenbrack write for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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