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Congressman quits over explicit messages exchanged with former page boy, 16

By Anthony Man
Political Writer
Posted September 30 2006

In a swift and stunning fall from political power, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley resigned his Florida congressional seat Friday, a day after he came under scrutiny for sending questionable e-mails to a 16-year-old boy. He left office, effective immediately, hours after he was confronted with sexually explicit Internet instant messages he exchanged with teens.Foley, 52, had represented part of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast since 1995. As recently as this past spring, he contemplated seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. His downfall hands Republicans a political mess, making it more difficult for the party to keep control of the House. A hallmark of his career as a congressman was his fight against child sexual abuse and child pornography. As co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, he bragged in 2005 about legislation he wrote that overhauled national sex offender registration and notification laws.ABC News reported Friday that the resignation came hours after it confronted Foley about sexually explicit communications. ABC News reported that former male congressional pages said the congressman "made repeated references to sexual organs and acts" from his AOL Instant Messenger screen name Maf54.One Internet exchange:Maf54: Do I make you a little horny?Teen: A little.Maf54: Cool.In a three-sentence public statement, Foley said it was an honor to serve in Congress for 12 years. He didn't offer a reason for his resignation. "I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent," Foley said.The developments sent shockwaves through the Florida and Washington political worlds."I am literally speechless," said Rand Hoch, a former chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party who has known Foley for almost 20 years.Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, defended Foley and attacked critics early Friday afternoon before the sexually explicit Internet messages became public -- then expressed betrayal after the sordid details and resignation came out."We don't defend the indefensible," he said. "In the four years I've been chairman, this is the first day I'm not happy about it."The potential for criminal prosecution of Foley is not clear.Robert Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern University Law School professor in Davie, said that after reading the Internet message conversation between Foley and the teenager that it could be argued a crime occurred."The difficult problem in most of these cases [is the question] `Is there a solicitation for sex?'" Jarvis said. He said that it could be argued Foley crossed that line with comments indicating a sexual interest in the teenager.On Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, said reactions included shock, anger and embarrassment for the institution of Congress. "People just have a real mix of emotions," he said. "There is no glee when someone you know for many years finds himself in a terribly unfortunate circumstance."U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, who also represents part of Palm Beach County and lives down the street from Foley in Washington -- a location they call "Florida Row" -- was harsh in his assessment."This type of behavior is what I try to protect my grandchildren from. It is unacceptable. He should have resigned. Members of Congress are responsible for protecting the most vulnerable among us -- our children," he said in a written statement.Foley had been considered a shoo-in for a seventh term in Congress, and the contest is now wide open.
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