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.
"When a gay member comes out and is open about it … they can vote as they deem appropriate," said Mann. "It is a little more complicated when one doesn't want that information made public."
Like many members, Foley also focused on issues important to his district, such as immigration and agriculture. After the 2004 hurricane season, he worked hard to get assistance for hard-hit areas in St. Lucie County, and he proposed a bill allowing insurance companies to create special disaster funds.
But it was Foley's work on child exploitation that won him national attention. The issue seemed to provoke genuine passion and emotion in Foley. In the end, that proved to be his downfall.