Foley's Public Persona Belied Private Life

ByABC News
October 2, 2006, 6:49 PM

Oct. 3, 2006 — -- In his public persona, former Rep. Mark Foley was best known as a champion protector of children. As chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, he was the direct sponsor of at least 15 different bills aimed at protecting young people from harm.

But privately, it appears that Foley lived a double life. And his alleged inappropriate e-mail exchanges with teenage pages could result in prosecution under the very laws he helped draft.

"He deceived the good men and women in organizations around this country, with whom he worked to strengthen our child predator laws," House Speaker Dennis Hastert told reporters today.  "I have known him for all the years he served in this House.  He deceived me, too."

In hindsight, Foley's life was a study in contradictions. A college dropout and former restaurateur, he got into politics at the age of 23 as a Democrat, winning a seat on the Lake Worth City Commission in Florida.

But he entered Congress as part of the Republican sweep of 1994 and quickly became a rising star in the GOP. With a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Foley frequently rubbed elbows with top party officials.

"He was a well-known, well-thought-of member," said Tom Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institute. "[He was] friendly, engaging, intelligent, energetic."

Foley also loved the spotlight. He once had a walk-on role in the movie "Body Heat," and he kept close ties to Hollywood. He led the GOP's entertainment task force and could often be seen shepherding actors around the Hill.

When Florida Sen. Bob Graham retired, Foley was seen as a front-runner for the seat. But confronted with questions about his sexual orientation, he soon dropped out of the race.

Fellow members say it was "common knowledge" that Foley was a homosexual. But Foley has never addressed the matter publicly. On gay-rights issues, he walked the careful tightrope of a moderate Republican, voting in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act but also against proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and against a ban on gay adoption.